Kevin Kilner seems right at home onstage at the Bryn Mawr School's Centennial Hall, cracking jokes and belting out anthems of a pirate's life. It might be because the veteran actor has performed everywhere from the small screen to the silver screen to the Broadway stage. But it also could simply be that Kilner, a Baltimore native and lacrosse-star-turned-movie-star, has finally come home.
Kilner's role as the Pirate King in the Young Victorian Theatre Company's 34th annual production, The Pirates of Penzance (July 8-18), marks his Baltimore stage debut and the long-awaited reunion of three friends and three of Baltimore's greatest institutions: lacrosse, medicine and theater.
The audience for this rehearsal - mostly directors, crew members and families - is small, buzzing between the auditorium's slate-green walls. Included are Dr. Roger Blumenthal, a cardiologist and associate professor at Johns Hopkins, and Brian Goodman, a Baltimore attorney and general manager of the theater company for 27 years, who have known Kilner since their days at the Johns Hopkins University in the late 1970s. (Blumenthal was a sports information director who covered the lacrosse team that Kilner played on and Goodman managed.)
These friends look about as different as their careers suggest. Kilner is casually handsome, with copper hair, a beard that may or may not stick around for the performance, and the stature of, well, a defensive midfielder. He towers easily over Goodman, a man with striking eyes who sounds a lot bigger than he is. And Blumenthal is clearly a doctor, tall and serious-looking with friendly features and an even, deliberate voice.
Physical differences aside, Kilner, Blumenthal and Goodman are celebrating a common bond: the memory of Hopkins lacrosse coach Henry "Chic" Ciccarone, who died in 1988 at age 50 from heart disease. The July 10 performance of the paradoxical pirate adventure will benefit the Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease at Johns Hopkins, which Blumenthal founded in 1990. The benefit pays homage to the Hall of Famer who led the Blue Jays to three straight NCAA Championships in 1978, 1979 and 1980, and has drawn Kilner from Hollywood to cloudier, decidedly more humid Baltimore.
"Once a year I'd bump into Brian and once a year he'd ask if I'd play the Pirate King," he said.
Goodman credits his persuasion tactics. "I'm a trial lawyer," he said. "Finally I put on the full-court press. He couldn't say no." But Goodman hasn't always been so convincing. As one of the first to hear about Kilner's interest in acting, 25 years ago during a lacrosse bus ride, he was downright discouraging. "I thought he was crazy," he said. "The learning point from that story is, don't ever take advice from me."
Luckily, Kilner took a chance on an acting career he'd never planned. "I just assumed I'd go into business," he says, since his only starring roles had been on lacrosse fields at Dulaney High School and Hopkins. But a few dismal months as a banker and one closet of suits later, Kilner enrolled in a drama class. "I got bitten," he said. "I loved it."
From there, it was the kind of life change only forgiven post-college or mid-mid-life crisis. Kilner sold his car, quit his job and moved to New York. He was rejected by the bigwigs and relegated to waiting tables, but four years on a champion lacrosse team will teach a guy to persevere. He found an agent, took voice lessons - "I had to lose my Baltimore dialect, y'know, hon?" he jokes - and began a career that climbed from commercials to Broadway productions like The Glass Menagerie, acting with Julie Harris and a then-unknown Calista Flockhart.
The self-described "middle-class, working actor" has since racked up impressive credits, including roles in Steve Martin's Shopgirl and as Joan Cusack's husband in Raising Helen. Despite his success, Kilner hasn't let Hollywood claim his down-to-earth attitude. The show's choreographer, Christine Glazier, says the Pirates cast adores him. "He's wonderful," she says. "And I've lived in L.A. I know."
Still, why the trip cross-country for a community theater role? And why the weeks of preparation, including lessons to perfect the singing voice that Kilner hasn't used since his sixth-grade part in The Wind in the Willows?
He points out that Kevin Kline once won a Tony Award for his performance as the Pirate King - maybe it is a career move. "[Kilner] is perfect, physically, for the Pirate King role," Goodman says. He should know - the Young Victorian has exclusively produced Gilbert and Sullivan operettas for years. And yes, Kilner's voice is a little less crystalline than starring actors Troy Clark (the Major General) and Krista Adams Santilli and Heather Lockard, who alternate in the role of Mabel, but they're stiff competition. "Our singers are the finest you'll see in Baltimore this summer," Goodman boasts.
But Kilner says his decision to play the Pirate King stems from lessons he learned from college lacrosse and the importance of community Ciccarone stressed. "Chic was insistent that everybody be treated with respect," he says.
"Chic was one of the greatest teachers any of us have ever had," Kilner said. "He taught me that any athletic team is nothing more than a microcosm of society, and if you function high on the team, you'll function high in life."
Ciccarone influenced just about everyone he knew, said Blumenthal, who details the coach's life and death in a somber tone. "His death affected me profoundly," he said.
Ciccarone had committed to the idea of being a spokesman for heart disease awareness before he died, an example of his fight to succeed in lacrosse and life. "People remember him as an extremely successful, hard-driving coach," Blumenthal says.
Goodman says former lacrosse players will attend the July 10 performance of the Gilbert and Sullivan favorite, despite their somewhat limited interest in musical theater. "They've seen opera about as much as I've gone to the moon," he says.
Though Kilner describes Pirates of Penzance as "literate theater ... like the New York Times crossword put to music," there are rewards for even the most casual listener in this tale of pirates, police, mismatched loyalties and, of course, love.
And Goodman promises he's got a few good-natured tricks up his sleeve that should please the crowd. Let's just say that on this one night, Hopkins and lacrosse make cameo appearances in the production.
"There's a whole community within Hopkins lacrosse," Kilner says between quips with Blumenthal and Goodman. "You can go anywhere in this country, and it means a lot to the people who have seen it and who know what it is."
The friends see the July 10 event as a fitting tribute to Ciccarone and his namesake, the Ciccarone Center. "We're entering into our 15th year, and few projects make it to the 15-year mark," Blumenthal says. "Since Baltimore is known for excellence in medicine and lacrosse, we're going to maintain that same motto."
In the meantime, Kilner, Blumenthal and Goodman will simply relish their reunion.
"Years will go by, but you can scratch the surface and it all comes back," Kilner says smiling. "Chic said we'll have these relationships for life, and he was right."
The Pirates of Penzance @SUBHEDWhere: Centennial Hall, Bryn Mawr School, 109 W. Melrose Ave., Roland Park@SUBHEDWhen: July 8 through July 18; all performances begin at 8 p.m. except for Sunday matinees (3 p.m.) and the July 10 benefit performance, which begins at 7:30 p.m.@SUBHEDTickets: $35@SUBHEDCall: 410-323-3077@SUBHED