Back in 2010, at a small theater in Cleveland, a play titled “Ghosts of War” premiered. It told the story of an ex-Marine, who now lives in Bradenton, and his decades-long struggle to come to terms with the death of his best friend, a kid who was killed in the very early days of the Vietnam War.
A couple years ago, Dylan Jones and his theater company, Little Grey Hat Productions, had just finished up their run of Michael Frayn’s “Copenhagen” at the Manatee Performing Arts Center. Rick Kerby, the producing artistic director of Manatee Players, handed Jones a copy of “Ghosts of War.”
Jones was fascinated by story, but he wasn’t crazy about the play.
“The problem was, it was a one-man show,” Jones said. “It was a monologue that was more than two hours long. It was kind of difficult to sit through.”
The one character in the play related compelling stories, but Jones kept finding himself wishing he could see those stories on the stage, rather than hear someone talk about them.
Jones used that “Ghosts of War” as the basis of a new play that he titled “The Remnant: A Vietnam Survivor’s Story.” It’s getting it world premiere this week in the Bradenton Kiwanis Theater at the performing arts center.
The central character is Jim Kyle. He’s the former Marine who now lives in Bradenton. When he was a teenager in Maryland, his best buddy was a kid named Danny Nicklow. Danny had everything going for him, including a football scholarship that would have paid for his college education, but he gave it all up to fight in Vietnam. He was killed not long after he got there.
Danny had everything going for him, including a football scholarship that would have paid for his college education, but he gave it all up to fight in Vietnam. He was killed not long after he got there.
Kyle became obsessed with finding out exactly what happened to his friend. He enlisted in the military himself, even asking a recruiter to hide some X-rays that showed a lung condition that might have excluded him from the service, and fought in Vietnam for 19 months.
The energy he drew from his quest to find answers helped him become a business success, but also led him to lose his fortune and his marriage, Jones said, and then ultimately to get his life back in order.
“It’s interesting talking to Jim,” Jones said. “He can talk for a long time but he very rarely talks about himself.”
Kyle said he’s excited about the premiere of the new show, but he doesn’t want to be the focus of attention.
“I’m just the messenger,” he said. “This is the time of year, Memorial Day, we need to remember that there’s more than just fictional superheroes. There are true heroes who laid down their lives for us, over many wars, over many centuries. Those heroes live on through us.”
Kyle was planning on seeing the play for the first time at its dress rehearsal, but he said he had been consulting with Jones during the development of the play.
“I’m relying on Dylan’s professionalism” Kyle said. “He’s been working really hard on it for the past two years.”
Not long before Jones produced “Copenhagen,” he appeared as Tom in Two Chairs Theatre’s production of “The Glass Menagerie.” He decided that the “memory play” motif that Tennessee Williams had essentially invented for that play would serve Kyle’s story well. So “The Remnant” takes that form, with the events of Kyle’s life filtered through his own memory and commentary.
Much of that original play, which was written by Christopher Johnston, remains in Jones’ work. Jones also used a short story that Kyle himself wrote, “In Search of Heroes,” as a basis for “The Remnant.” But he’s pared down that original two-and-a-half hour monologue to less than 90 minutes, and added several characters.
Besides writing and producing the play, Jones is directing, and recently had to step in to take over the role of Danny when another actor had to drop out. The cast also includes Ren Pearson as the younger version of Jim, Austin McKinley and Chris Hines as several men who shaped Kyle’s search for answers, and Sherrie McKinley as the women in Kyle’s life. Jay Bowman, who flew helicopters during the Vietnam War, plays the older version of Jim.
Details: May 25-28 Bradenton Kiwanis Theater at the Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 Third Ave, W., Bradenton. 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. $20. 941-748-5875, manateeperformingartscenter.com.