Meet the Director and Cast of PGLT’s ‘Brighton Beach Memoirs’: Part 1: Director Ken Kienas

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I have been involved with community theater for a long time. My bio says that I’ve been doing theater productions over 30 years, but it’s not so easy count the years. I was in the cast of two musicals in high school and college but I didn’t really pick up theater as a full-time hobby until graduating from college. I caught the theater “bug” when I was living and work in Southwest Virginia in the ‘80s. When you get involved in community theater, you do everything from set construction to acting to producing plays. It has all been “learning by doing” for me. DaddysDyin-Ken-8315sigB I continued with my passion for theater when I moved to Maryland for work in the ‘90s. I was forced into taking an extended leave because of a little issue called marriage and children. Theater takes up a lot of time. In 2008, both my daughters got cast in a production of The Sound of Music. Since I knew I was going to have to provide the transportation, I figured I might as well see if I could get a part too. I did and I haven’t looked back. I consider myself an actor, more than anything else in theater. I’ve been lucky getting cast in roles and usually I’m on stage at least two times per year, mostly in the groups that use the Bowie Playhouse.

Ken as Big Daddy in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.'
Ken as Big Daddy in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.’

My favorite role was Big Daddy in Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. I serve on the Board of Directors for two theater groups, including Prince George’s Little Theater (PGLT). I happened to sit on the play selection committee for another group two years ago when Brighton Beach Memoirs was recommended. The group decided not to do the show, but I loved the play.

It is a play filled with Neil Simon’s signature flair for rapid-fire jokes and wisecracks. However, Brighton Beach Memoirs also touched me with its heart-warming tenderness. Brighton Beach Memoirs could have been a real downer. Some of its themes include conversation stoppers like death, job lose, illness, sibling rivalry and impending war. Simon made Brighton Beach Memoirs into a poignant and humorous glimpse a family, fighting the hard times and sometimes each other in 1937 Brooklyn during the heart of the Depression through the eyes of its narrator, fourteen-year-old Eugene. Dreaming of baseball and girls, Eugene copes with the mundane existence of his family life which includes a formidable mother, an overworked father, and his worldly older brother Stanley. Throw into the mix are his widowed Aunt Blanche and her two young daughters.

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As our guide through his “memoirs,” Eugene takes us through a series of observations and insights that show his family meeting life’s challenges with pride, spirit, and a marvelous sense of humor. This bittersweet memoir evocatively captures the life of a struggling family where, as his father states “if you didn’t have a problem, you wouldn’t be living here.”

Another reason why I was attracted to this play was the strong roles given to teen actors. There are lots of plays written for young actors aimed at children with silly characters and animals. There are musicals and some dramas that usually have minor parts young actors as they walk on and off the stage. I believe that community theater should provide shows and opportunities that appeal to all members of the community, including young people. Brighton Beach Memoirs fulfills that requirement with four wonderful roles for teens (Eugene (played by Casey Baum);Stan (played by Mike Culhane);Nora  (played by Sophie Speciale); and Laurie (played by Annalie Ellis). I am blessed with some very skilled teen actors. We have put together a wonderful production that should be seen and enjoyed by all members of the community.

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Brighton Beach Memoirs plays from August 29-September 13, 2014 at Prince George’s Little Theatre (PGLT) performing at Bowie Playhouse – 16500 White Marsh Park Drive, in Bowie, MD. For tickets, call (301) 937-7458 and press 1, or purchase them online.

Photo of  Ken courtesy of Bowie Community Theatre.

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This coming Monday, August 18th at 7:30 PM: Free Preview of Prince George’s Little Theatre’s ‘Brighton Beach Memoirs’ at New Carollton Library.

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