Portrait of a legend

Published 10:55 pm Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Edmund Shaff performs in the one-man play “Churchill,” written by Andrew Edlin. Shaff, who has appeared in movies and television shows such as “Evan Almighty” and “Glee,” admits to being obsessed with Churchill. He will perform the play at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts this weekend.

Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts presents an evening with Winston Churchill

In his secret bunker below London in 1955, Sir Winston Churchill agonizes over whether to resign as prime minister.

He reviews all the historic events, glorious speeches, wit and wisdom that make Churchill himself. He thinks about his immeasurable career, shepherding the United Kingdom through World War II.

This scene will play out in Suffolk this weekend at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts, when Edmund Shaff performs the one-man play “Churchill,” written by Andrew Edlin.

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“Churchill has been an obsession of mine for several years,” Shaff said in a phone interview recently. “I started trying to write a script [for a play on Churchill] about seven years ago because of my obsession with the man.”

Shaff began putting together a script, but didn’t get very far. He discovered Edlin’s script, though, and made arrangements to have the rights to do the play.

He’s been doing it for about a year now, marking his return to the stage after many years of doing television sitcoms, commercials and films.

Shaff moved to New York at the age of 21 to pursue an acting career. He appeared on Broadway, off Broadway, road tours and “all the things actors should do,” he said.

But at the end of 10 years, he still was not making a lot of money. So he became an accountant and practiced for 25 years.

“I was hating what I was doing,” he said. “I missed the thrill of the theater.”

So Shaff came back to acting, playing in such television series and films as “L.A. Law,” “Designing Women,” “Matlock,” “Murder, She Wrote,” “Murphy Brown,” “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman,” “Melrose Place,” “The West Wing,” “Malcolm in the Middle,” “Evan Almighty,” “Mad Men,” “Desperate Housewives” and “Glee.”

“Paying jobs are drying up for people my age,” the 76-year-old said. “That’s another reason that prompted me to do the one-man show.”

Shaff hopes the two-act play on Churchill will give viewers another perspective on the British leader.

“What I’m hoping the audience comes away with is to sense his greatness and his whole personality,” Shaff said. “I hope it excites enough interest that people will go out and read more about him.”

Shaff said the play will give particular insight into Churchill’s humor and wit, as well as his feelings about his father.

“He was a very witty man,” Shaff said. “His humor was amazing. Several [of his witticisms] are incorporated into the show.”

Shaff said Churchill also seeks his father’s approval throughout the show, though his father is long dead at the time in which the play is set.

“That resonated with me personally and helped make Churchill a lot more human,” Shaff said.

Tickets to the show, which begins Saturday at 8 p.m., are $20 and $25. For more information, call 923-0003 or visit www.suffolkcenter.org.