Coralville — No one would ever dream of calling me an historian. What I knew about Winston Churchill before tonight was about 10% high school and 90% Doctor Who. While I realize this revelation hardly casts me in a positive light, I make it so that you will all be aware that Churchill, written and performed by Andrew Edlin, is not merely for the well-informed. History geeks would, I'm sure, get much more depth of enjoyment from it than I did... but that's a bonus for them, not a drawback for the rest of us.
Edlin creates a Churchill who is more than just a character sketch. He is a vibrant and conflicted man facing perhaps the most challenging decision of his career - whether or not to retire. In its purest moments, Churchill is an exploration of obligation. It is not vanity that drives him to proclaim that he is still needed. It's a passionate desire to serve as fully as he is capable. "They all want me to go," Churchill says of his colleagues and family, "but they could all be wrong."
The thread of this cleverly constructed story weaves its way through a mass of quotes and recitations. However, although the audience clearly loved the charmingly-delivered witticisms, they occasionally overshadowed the narrative. In fact, in practice, the show belies one of its major assertions: we are treated to a conversation with a character who describes himself as a terrible extemporaneous speaker, who nevertheless regales us with a lifetime's worth of clever turns of phrase over the course of 90 minutes. The quotes sometimes seemed aimed more at drawing a laugh of recognition out of the audience than serving either character or story.
Still, once that conceit is accepted, it is easy to be drawn in by the storytelling. This Churchill is a compelling character warmly embraced by the responsive crowd. Edlin imbues him with a playful physicality that helps keep the show visually as well as intellectually engaging. A well-balanced set design plays into this too, as does the use of projections to expand on historical points and show photographs of the historic personalities discussed (although there were some timing issues in this performance).
Overall, Churchill is a lovingly constructed show that brings warmth and depth to a beloved historical figure. There are moments in which it comes across as a history lecture, but they are overshadowed by the humanity that Edlin brings to bear in his role. Churchill is a worthwhile theatrical experience for all.
Churchill has one more performance at the CCPA, today (Sunday, February 2) at 2:00 p.m. Ticket information here.