The sculpture of President Kennedy by David Lewis outside the JFK Museum in Hyannis. Inside, there is a miniature of the original proposal: the president walking with son JFK Jr. depicted as an adult.
By Irish Echo Staff
Playwright Claude Solnik, whose 2015 play “The Caretaker of Corofin” was set in County Clare in the 1980s, takes on an Irish-American story with his latest, “A Walk on The Beach,” which will begin a run at Manhattan’s Theater for the New City next week.
It concerns the real-life tale of artist David Lewis’s plans for a life-size sculpture of JFK and an adult JFK Jr. walking side by side.
The idea got strong backing from the surviving brother and daughter of the 35th president, but it was abandoned after local opposition.
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Instead, President Kennedy is depicted walking on the beach alone outside the JFK Hyannis Museum, while a scaled-down version of the father and son sculpture can be seen inside.
Lewis helped Solnik adapt the story for the stage. The sculptor will be played by Jack Coggins, an Irish-American actor from Medford, Mass., who now lives in Hoboken.
“The idea was giving them a moment they never had in their lives,” Solnik said, “to use art to overcome events, to let art triumph over time and tragedy.
“The plan was for it to go up on Cape Cod, and be a memorial and an attraction for those who wanted to pay homage to the Kennedy family.”
In 2000, the year after John Jr.’s death, both Senator Edward Kennedy and his niece Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg preferred the concept of him being portrayed as an adult rather than as a child.
But letter-writers to a local newspaper objected to the proposal saying that Hyannis needed to honor real history, not promote a fantasy. And so the family withdrew its support for the sculpture because of this local opposition.
Lewis himself has pointed out that his approach was hardly radical. “I’m not comparing myself to Michelangelo,” he said, but added: “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.”
”It was defeated in the name of history,” the Long Islander Solnik said. “I saw a play in the story of the sculpture that might have been. Lewis’s statue greets thousands of visitors to the JFK Hyannis Museum. But his vision of the two men side by side on the beach stands, a miniature, within the museum, is more humble and, to me, very moving.”
He had no idea about the backstory to the miniature until he tracked down Lewis.
“I think it’s a powerful story – a Kennedy story most people have never heard. The play involves the Kennedys, art, a sculptor, history and a father and son.
Senator Edward Kennedy’s letter of thanks to David Lewis – dated on the late president’s birthday, May 29, 2007 – after the unveiling of the sculpture. He added “Well done, David” in a handwritten note at the end. In a 2000 letter, the senator expressed his admiration for the original proposal and said he regretted “the problems that arose.”
“JFK is a key character [played by James Earley]. David Lewis in the play talks with him or imagines what JFK would say and think,” the author said.
“The play brings JFK back to life in a way,” Solnik said, “something that Lewis, I believe, also sought to do through his work.”
The other characters are Nancy Lewis (played by Elizabeth Bove), Charlie (John Carhart), a local editor, and local restaurant owner Louis (Alex Shafer).
“A Walk on the Beach,” will play at the Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave., New York, NY. Thursday to Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. June 21-24, July 5-8 and July 12-15.Tickets $18/$15 seniors and students. For tickets, contact 212-254-1109, www.theaterforthenewcity.net.