Fort Bragg residents don’t have to travel to the Big Apple to see a Broadway-quality show. Since 1962, the Cape Fear Regional Theater in Fayetteville, has shown top musicals and plays, drawing Broadway and television stars like Loretta Switt and William Christopher from M*A*S*H and dancer Lawrence Hamilton.
The latest production, Around the World in 80 Days, stars one of Fort Bragg’s own, Col. Ken Griggs, chief of radiology at Womack Army Medical Center as Phileas Fogg.
Director Nick Minaz describes the play as a trip “to the Suez Canal and Bombay, Calcutta, Hong Kong and Yokohama and San Francisco and Nebraska, Chicago and New York and back to London again. How we do that in a 30 by 30 square foot space is the fun part.
“The great thing about the style of this show is that it takes this story which is an old story and brings a freshness and a newness with a more modern twist to this old Victorian story. We’re going to have fun with this. It’s the kind of show that everybody can come to. You and an eight-year-old and an 80-year-old can be laughing at the same joke but getting a different sense of what the joke is,” said Minaz.
Griggs describes his character, Phileas Fogg as “the stoic Englishman who’s very methodical, very mechanical, scientific brain, very sure of himself, and has no doubts of his endeavor. As he grows through the play, he becomes more human, more reliant on others, falls in love and comes to appreciate the differences of people and people’s shortcomings which he was unable to do before.”
All the characters are played by five actors with one playing eight and one playing 19 different parts, said Griggs.
“Every one of them has a different physicality, dialect. The whole cast is brilliant. I feel like it’s the Carol Burnett show and I’m Harvey Korman. Because I’m working with all these brilliant actors who are funny and I have to keep a straight face,” he said.
Griggs started acting when he was 13-years old, while living with his parents in Seoul, Korea. To get the ‘underfoot’ teenager something to do, his father suggested trying out for a play at a community theater on base. Griggs got a part as a eunuch in the play “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”
“I didn’t know what a eunuch was and no one would tell me. They didn’t think a 13-year-old needed to know,” said Griggs. “It wasn’t halfway through the rehearsal process before I went to the unabridged dictionary and looked up the word, eunuch. I said ‘Oh! Now I see,’ because they told me to act in a certain way and I didn’t know why,” he said.
After that, Griggs said he was hooked.
He continued his theater experience through high school and planned on attending Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, when he was accepted into the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., in 1985. After graduating, he attended the Uniformed Services Medical School where he got a degree in radiology, something he says he really enjoys.
“Radiology is best described as I get to play Sherlock Holmes for every single case. I’m paid to notice things that should be there that aren’t and notice things that aren’t there that should be,” said Griggs.
The chief of radiology said he takes his job very seriously. “The words that we say determine how a patient is treated. As my career in medicine has gone on, the importance of that radiologic report has increased in an order of magnitude.”
Griggs says he also gets great satisfaction and feels he makes a difference in his profession.
“My personal most rewarding thing is putting in venous access devices in chemotherapy patients. It changes their disease process; it changes their medical care. I consider it almost a gift I’m giving the patient. ‘Hey man, I’m giving you your privacy back. I’m giving you control over who knows about your disease,’” he said.
Griggs says he makes time for the other two facets of his life — his Family and the theater.
“All three of them suffer because of the others. I try to spread that out. I’d be lying if I said I couldn’t do a better job here if I wasn’t doing theater or I didn’t have such a strong commitment to my Family. Yes, I could spend more time here. Would it make that much of a difference? I don’t know. I think I do a good job at all three. But it is a juggling game,” said Griggs.
He believes the three facets of his life balance him. “Because I have such a serious job, where everything I do can have life or death consequences. To have a, I hate to use this term, non-serious job as an actor . . . of course it’s a serious job, the consequences of missing an entrance or go up on a line, nobody will die.
“To have the creative and scientific side, it balances out. I am truly happy when I get to have all three in a balance. That’s not very common to have someone who says ‘You know, I’m actually very happy with my life right now,’ he said.
Griggs, wife, Lindsay, and three children, Mollie, 19, Laura, 17 and Austin, 15, consider the theater an extended part of their Family. Mollie is following in her father’s footsteps as a freshman attending the School of Drama at Carnegie Mellon University.
“I hear stories of my friends’ kids where they’re sneaking off with a bottle of tequila. Mine are all coming over to my house with some friends wanting to do charades with their dad. How cool is that?” he said.
“That’s what has grown out of that theater environment. It’s not for everybody, but my Family and my children are stronger and better people because they grew up as Bo Thorp (founding artistic director of Cape Fear Regional Theater) say in ‘row G of Cape Fear Theater,’ said Griggs.
The play continues through Nov. 11. For directions and ticket prices, call the box office at 323-4233 or visit www.cfrt.org.