"Churchill," a one-man show starring Tony-Award nominee Roy Dotrice, is not theater's finest hour. It is, however, an amusing way to soak up a little history in two acts.
"Churchill," set in Sir Winston's private rooms, takes place just after he has become prime minister and just before FDR wins his third term. Much of the interplay is between the two leaders; though this is a one-man show, the audience easily can imagine FDR on the other end of the phone.
Britain's Dotrice is no stranger to one-man shows. In 1979 he appeared as ''Mister Lincoln" at Ford's Theatre, which is also host to "Churchill's" first run. And his 1,700 performances of "Brief Lives" earned him a mention in the Guinness book for the longest-running one-man show.
Producer and playwright Samuel Gallu is no stranger to one-man works either. His hit "Give 'Em Hell, Harry!" also premiered at Ford's. Gallu's heros always have a way with words. Again, his witty script owes much to his protagonists. Churchill's anecdotes are so good they sound apocryphal.
The show could be retitled "Winston's Greatest Hits." Dotrice does such speeches as "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat" and "Never has so much been owed by so many to so few." And there is Lady Astor, who said: "Sir, if you were my husband, I would poison your coffee." To which Churchill replied: "Madam, if you were my wife I would drink it."
Dotrice is delightful when he's playing Churchill, the wit and the rogue. He's moving at times too, as when he reads from the Book of Ruth. Alas, he so convinces us he's a philosophcal Puck, it's difficult to also accept him as the angry orator who inspired Dunkirk. And when the Black Dog comes to stay, Dotrice simply isn't up to acting out deep depression.
Further, the set is a bit cheesy, with two- by-fours holding up lighted maps. And there are dreadful sound effects off-stage -- wailing sirens, crashing planes, old radio broadcasts -- that disrupt the intimate mood that Dotrice has worked so hard to set up. It's also a little silly when searchlights play across the theater roof and the shadow of a stained-glass window falls across the blood- red map of Great Britain.
But Dotrice forebears and brazenly ends it all, silhouetted in black, giving his best V for Victory sign.
CHURCHILL At Ford's through November 14