Do Savannnah

Savannah Community Theatre to present original play ‘Ken’

  • Savannah Community Theatre presents "Ken" from July 7-10.
  • Savannah Community Theatre presents "Ken" from July 7-10.
  • Savannah Community Theatre presents "Ken" from July 7-10.
  • Savannah Community Theatre presents "Ken" from July 7-10.

Savannah Community Theatre to present original play ‘Ken’

30 Jun 2016

Most of the action in “Ken,” an original play being presented by Savannah Community Theatre from July 7-10, takes place on a train.

To the surprise of director Tom Coleman III, none of his actors had ever ridden on a train. There was only one solution.

“I took them on a train trip last week,” Coleman says. “I found it only costs $16 to go to Charleston.”

The train trip really was a necessary expedition so the actors could learn what it was like to travel by train.

“Especially walking on a train and the seating situation,” Coleman says. “We wanted to sit down and have dinner, but dinner reservations were sold out, so we went to the club car and got sandwiches.

“They told us if you’re above Jacksonville, you’ll never get into the dining car all summer, unless you take the train in the morning,” he says. “You can always eat breakfast.”

The actors got lots of practice in moving on a train.

“We had to walk the length of five cars to get to the dining room,” Coleman says. “But mostly we had a good time with each other.”

The experience was especially valuable for actor Tom Paris, who plays numerous parts, most involving the train crew.

“I play the porter, the attendant, the conductor, the baggage handler, the Union Station man, the loader and the undertaker,” he says.

“I liked the play because it was different and something I haven’t done before. I wanted to do something fresh.

“I had a little time and told Tom I wouldn’t mind having a couple little parts in the play,” Paris says. “So he gave me a lot of little parts.”

Paris, the founder of Savannah Comedy Revue, is having fun.

“It’s definitely a challenge because I’ve never played these kinds of characters before,” he says. “It’s a 1930s type cast of people.”

The train trip was helpful for learning the body language of being on a train, Paris says.

“We got an idea of what it’s like sitting across from each other, looking out the window,” he says. “Walking through the train and how to get through, how the body would twist and turn. I had to hold onto the seats. “In the play, when I have to go and make an announcement, I have to walk like I’m actually on a train,” Paris says. “If the train would stop, everyone would go forward. When you look at us, you’ll actually see us as if we’re riding a train.”

It’s almost like traveling through time, he adds.

“This is an interesting play that has a lot of twists and turns that make it different,” Paris says. “It shows what it would be like to be on train in the 1930s.

“It’s about how this guy ended up getting on a train and meeting a girl and going through all these hoops to make sure the coffin didn’t leave his sight. Yet every time he turned around, the coffin kept moving.

“It’s definitely action-packed and interesting,” Paris says. “It’s got a movie quality to it.”

“Ken” is based on a short story by Arnold Sundgaard that was published in 1959 in The New Yorker. The story is an account of the author’s own experiences in 1933 when he was a student at the Yale Department of Drama.

A fellow student — the Ken of the title — died and Sundgaard was asked to accompany his body home to his parents in Portland, Ore. The story centers around that trip and the impact it had on the author’s life.

Coleman started working on “Ken” after film producer Stratton Leopold gave him a copy of the story and asked him to write a play based on it.

Recently, the company did a staged reading of the play to get the public’s input.

“It couldn’t have gone better,” Coleman says. “We had 80 people show up. I expected just a few.

“When it was over, everybody stayed. Usually in a talk-back, you have about 30 percent who stay.

“I saw people taking notes and writing down what they wanted to say,” he says. “Some said, ‘You did not explain this well; I didn’t understand what was going on here.’ One had 4 1/2 pages of notes.”

The staged reading worked exactly as it was supposed to.

“I went back to work the next day and worked on the script for three days,” Coleman says. “I answered all the questions they had.

“They all agreed there was too much kissing in the show, so we dropped the kissing. It was 1933, and they wanted the relationship between the boy and girl to be an innocent and nice one.”

But even with some negative comments, the audience was enthusiastic about the play.

“It really did help the show as far as staging is concerned,” Coleman says. “They suggested things to leave out and that helped me.”

The cast includes Eric McCrea, a professional actor who has appeared in feature films and television series, most recently in “Mena” with Tom Cruise and “Christine” with Michael C. Hall. He can be seen in “The Fifth Wave” with Chloë Grace Moretz and in several episodes of “The Vampire Diaries.”

Jeffery Hall has performed in and/or directed more than 60 theatrical productions around the world, appeared in more than 20 feature films and once performed for President Ronald Reagan. His full-time job is as the creative director and lead actor for Old Savannah Tours, where he portrays Johnny Mercer and other historical Savannah figures.

Jake Roberts studied at Benedictine Military School and plans to go to college at Belmont Abbey in North Carolina. His most recent role was Albert Peterson in “Bye, Bye Birdie.”

Maia Collins has performed in roles at the Savannah Children’s Theatre and was in Savannah Community Theatre’s “Godspell” with her father, Gary.

Malinda K. Smith studied at Vanderbilt University in Nashville and performed throughout the Maryland/Washington, D.C., region before moving to Savannah.

The production is being produced by Leopold, a 35-year veteran of the film business who has produced major large-budget motion pictures. He has nearly 60 film and television credits ranging from executive producer and producer to casting director and actor.

“I really am starting to like this story very, very much,” Coleman says. “When I started writing, I don’t think I got the nuances as I was reading quickly through.

“As we rehearse it, it really is a very nice coming-of-age story for this boy. I think parents will greatly identify with the parents of this story.

“Younger people will identify with the boy and girl,” he says. “I think it is an interesting story and that people definitely will get something out of it.”



What: Savannah Community Theatre presents “Ken”

When: 7:30 p.m. July 7, 8, 9; 3 p.m. July 10

Where: Muse Arts Warehouse, 703 Louisville Road

Cost: $15