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Exploring love in wartime

Published 8:38pm Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Auditions for ‘Tuskegee Love Letters’ approach

Upcoming auditions at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts will be held only four days before the play is staged — and the brief period for practice is intentional, because the actors won’t need to memorize any lines.

The reader’s theater play “Tuskegee Love Letters” is based on more than 400 actual letters written by the parents of playwright Kim Russell when they were young newlyweds separated by World War II. The play tells the story of her father, a smitten young man who was among the original Tuskegee Airmen; her mother, who was at home adjusting to her new surroundings; and their daughter, who discovers the letters years later and finds answers to pressing questions after her mother’s death.

Lt. Col. James Bernard Knighten and his wife Luana Knighten are portrayed in the “Tuskegee Love Letters” play, which will be staged at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts on Feb. 17. (Courtesy of Kim Russell)

“It’s the story of a young married couple who are coping with separation of wartime and military life,” Russell said. “We certainly have enough of those happening right now. It’s also the journey that a child makes to discover their parents and the lessons parents leave behind for their kids. It asks the question, ‘What legacies do you leave behind for the next generation?’”

The play has evolved through the years, Russell said. The letters also have been published in book form.

“Originally we had 15 letters that my grandmother had saved,” Russell said. “We put those up in a small, one-act play that my dad got to see when he was alive.”

But after her father died in 2000, the family found another 400 letters.

“It’s taken many years to get through all those letters,” said Russell, who also came to the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts in 2010 to portray Sojourner Truth in the play “I Sell the Shadow.”

Auditions will be held Feb. 13 at 5 p.m. at the center, 110 W. Finney Ave. Four rehearsals will be held throughout the next three days, and the show will be performed Feb. 17 at 2:30 p.m.

Two women and one man, all black, are needed for the cast. The man and one of the women should be in their 20s or 30s, and the other woman — who will play the couple’s daughter later in life — should be between 40 and 80. Hopefuls should bring a photo of themselves and will be asked to read from the script. They may also present a short prepared piece. The cast members will read directly from the script.

“We have an obligation to leave a legacy,” Russell said.

For more information or to schedule an audition time, call the Suffolk Center at 923-0003 or email


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