Television stars appearing in Totem Pole comedy
Three generations of one family, an in-law and a close friend are sharing the stage at Totem Pole Playhouse for the current production. Another longtime friend will be behind the scenes and a daughter will be in the wings for the month the coastal visitors are appearing in the Caledonia State Park theatre.
The bond of the close acquaintances could not be ignored during a press conference last week promoting “The Foreigner”, running through Aug. 3. Two of the actors will not be foreign to audiences either, as they have appeared on popular television shows.
Ken Jenkins, 73, starred as Dr. Bob Kelso in the TV series “Scrubs” for nine years, and is currently seen in “Cougar Town” as Courtney Cox’s father. Jill Larson, 66, played Opal Cortlandt on the soap opera “All My Children” for 22 years and has signed on to HBO’s Rock’n’Roll drama with Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger. She was also one of 20 participants in the You Tube hit “First Kiss”, which has had 86 million views since March.
Ken’s son Dan Jenkins, 51, starred as the father in the Broadway production of “Mary Poppins” and received a Tony Award nomination for his role as Huckleberry Finn in “Big River” as a youth. His son Jesse Jenkins, 16, is making his professional stage acting debut. Dan’s wife and Jesse’s mom, Katherine Hiler, rounds out the family connection and brings along experience from Broadway and other productions.
The other actors in the show are Corey Brill, who has appeared on Broadway, and Paris Peet, head of the Shippensburg University theatre department. He has performed frequently at Totem Pole.
Rowan Joseph, 57, is the one who brought everyone together from New York and Los Angeles. They were friends from his theatre days in the Big Apple, before he settled in Fayetteville and became producing artistic director at Totem Pole this year. He continues to be a professional producer, director, voiceover artist and actor. He and Ken Jenkins also knew Totem founder John Putch.
A final twist in the story is that Larson became a licensed minister so she could officiate the wedding ceremony of Dan and Katherine.
Joseph asked Ken Jenkins to direct ‘The Foreigner’ by Larry Shue. He replied it had to be a package deal with his family. That got the ball rolling.
“I’m a firm believer in nepotism and friends,” joked Joseph.
“I was probably the only person in the U.S. who had never seen the play,” Ken told the assembled press. “It’s a farce because it’s genuinely funny. As you get into it, it spreads into a more American experience, funny and touching things in their lives. It gets into your heart.”
He admitted the cast had not gotten through a rehearsal without cracking up, ala Carol Burnett-Tim Conway-HarveyKorman style, because it was such a joy for them all to be working together.
The plot is that a man drops off his pal at a Georgia bed and breakfast, but the guest is extremely shy. He pretends not to speak a word of English. That, of course, leads to the foreigner overhearing more family secrets and local scandals than he should.
Joseph changed the approach to the boy character.
“Usually he is presented as an idiot savant or like Goober, but in looking at the script, I loved the idea that he is a teenage boy treated as an idiot,” Joseph said. “Jesse’s inexperience is a huge advantage. He’s total honesty.”
Everyone was happy to be preparing for the 20 live performances.
“We’re here because we love to do this,” said Larson. “On stage, that’s when I feel, ‘Oh, I’m home.’”
She has already seen her teenage daughter, along for the month, relax in the rural setting despite having to spend part of the summer in a strange place with her mom.
Dan Jenkins accepted that anything could happen in front of a live audience. “Sometimes things go wrong. I think the audience loves that.”
He enjoyed working in any play, but because of the camaraderie and shared history of the cast and crew, ‘The Foreigner’ was particularly fun.
His dad concluded, “The best thing is we are all loving being here. We hope we live up to the history and tradition of this theatre.”
Ken Jenkins - Director. Also Sgt. Froggy LeSeuer, an explosives expert who brings his ‘foreign’ friend to the fishing lodge.
Jill Larson - Betty Meeks, owner of the B and B.
Dan Jenkins - Charlie Baker, an Englishman with marital issues who really understands English quite well.
Katherine Hiler - Catherine Simms, going through an emotional time.
Jesse Jenkins - Ellard Simms, Catherine’s brother, heir to half the family money.
Corey Brill - Rev. David Lee, engaged to Catherine.
Paris Peet - Owen Musser, a villain.
“The Foreigner” will be performed through Aug. 3, with 3 p.m. matinees on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. The evening shows are on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $30 to $45. They may be purchased by calling the box office at 888-805-7056.