In A WALK ON THE BEACH Jack Coggins Cast As Sculptor Of Kennedy Statue

In A WALK ON THE BEACH Jack Coggins Cast As Sculptor Of Kennedy Statue

Jack Coggins has been cast to play David Lewis, the sculptor who designed the statue of John Fitzgerald Kennedy that stands in front of the JFK Hyannis Museum, in A Walk on the Beach.

Theater for the New City and the Textile Co. are presenting the show, billed as a "Kennedy story you haven't heard," written by Claude Solnik and directed by Donna Mejia, July 5-8 and July 10-15.  Weeknights at 8 p.m., Sat. at 3 and 8 p,m, and Sun. 3 p.m. Tickets at Theater for the New City at Tix.

A Walk on the Beach is based on and inspired by the true story of how Lewis, a plumber who became a sculptor, designed a sculpture of JFK and his son John Jr. walking side by side as men. He had done other sculptures of historic figures.

A controversy developed over this one, as some favored history straightforward and simple, saying this portrayed something that never occurred. The Associated Press and TV shows covered the controversy that ensued.

A small model of the sculpture of the two Kennedeys as adults now stands in the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Hyannis Museum, but the life-sized statue never got made.

Coggins, an actor born in Medford., Mass.who graduated from Harvard the same year as Caroline Kennedy, plays David Lewis.

"I grew up in Boston as one of seven football-toting Irish Catholic children from 1960's Medford, Mass.," Coggins said. "I just felt part of the Kennedy tribe."

Elizabeth Bove plays Nancy Lewis, John Carhart plays Charlie, a local editor, and David Shakopi plays Louis, a local restaurant owner.

The play seeks to mix history with art and tell a story related to the Kennedys that few people know.

"It's a story of art, media, Massachusetts, history, controversy, a small town and, of course, it's a Kennedy story," Solnik said.

David Lewis, who worked for many years as a plumber, then became a sculptor, specializing in historic figures. His creations stand in various locations around the Cape and elsewhere.

He designed the original statue, showing JFK as a man with "John John" or John Jr. as a child after John Jr.'s plane crashed. Lewis got the design to Sen. Ted Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy, showing a famous father and son.

"A friend of mine who's friendly with the senator saw it. He took two copies and showed one to Caroline and the senator," Lewis said of sketches of the original sculpture. "They liked the idea and that something should be done."

The two, however, didn't like the idea of freezing John Kennedy Jr. forever as a child, essentially ignoring much of his life.

"Caroline said that to depict him as a little boy would detract from his memory," Lewis said. "The senator said to our mutual friend, 'Why don't we have them both as men?'"

So the idea of this statue was born, using art to give the two a moment that history never allowed them to have.

A Walk on the Beach follows what occurred, telescoping it into a shorter time frame and creating a fictional figure to represent a local publication

"People couldn't wrap their minds around something artistic. I got reports like, 'Well, the president never knew his son as an adult,'" Lewis said. "I'm not comparing myself to Michelangelo. He did the Pieta. Mary holds her dead son in her lap and he's older than she is. They accepted that 500 years ago."

The statue was designed around 2000 - and the statue of JFK by himself went up in front of the museum in 2007.

"I think the small model is one of the most moving works of art I've ever seen. It's about fatherhood, growing older with your son," Solnik said. "It's about a personal loss to the Kennedys, not just the loss to the world, the fact that these two people never got to know each other as adults. They are a family and a father and son who never got to grow older together."

Coggins found out about the play at a time when he already, coincidentally, was appearing in another show with historic roots.

"I heard about 'A Walk on the Beach' while playing American reporter John Scali in Joe Vitale"s "Back Channel," an exploration of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis that featured the intricacies of the JFK/RFK impact on world history," Coggins said.

Solnik said he was moved by the statue of the two Kennedys as adults, spending a great deal of time simply standing in front of it when he visited the museum. After talking with David Lewis, he felt that the statue's story itself could fuel a play.

Coggins was cast based on his performance at auditions. But the Harvard alumnus said he likes the idea of playing a sculptor as well.

"At Harvard, though I concentrated in English and American lit, I completed a significant amount of coursework in studio drawing, and throughout my life have continued to draw," Coggins said. "Most recently, I've drawn many houses upon occasional request. While not earth-shattering, it was another serendipitous connection I felt to the David Lewis character."

He brings both acting chops and the accent to the role, but also pointed to other things he has in common with the Kennedys.

"I share the birthdate of the Kennedy matriarch (Rose) and was in the same Harvard graduating class as JFK's daughter Caroline," Coggins said. "I had merely to drop r's as I naturally did in my first three decades. And I share the same distinguished hairline as David Lewis. I was convinced it was a summons from the universe."

A Walk on the Beach, Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave., New York, NY. Weeknights at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. July 5-8 and July 10-15.Tickets $18/$15 seniors and students. 212-254-1109, Tickets.

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