An Alternate Ending
One Man Show Extrapolates Beyond the Confines of History
Published: Friday, January 31, 2014
Updated: Friday, January 31, 2014 00:01
What would have happened if John F. Kennedy had survived his attempted assassination in 1963? How would Kennedy reflect on his presidency and America in 2014, at the age of 96? These are just a few of the questions Dennis McAndrews hypothesizes about in his one-man, one-act play, “If JFK Survived Dallas: Presidential Reflections at Age 96,” which he will be performing at Georgetown’s McNeir Auditorium Saturday at 8 p.m.
McAndrews became inspired to write the play in January 2010, after reading the book “Lessons in Disaster” by Gordon M. Goldstein. The book explores possible routes Kennedy would have taken regarding the Vietnam War, a concept that fascinated McAndrews. The self-described “political science junkie” explains, “I’d always kind of wondered whether Kennedy would have gotten us into Vietnam and the book did explore some of that. We were approaching, at the time, the 50th anniversary of his election as president, so I thought, well, why not? Let’s give a shot at writing a play. I always did a reasonably good Kennedy imitation even from when I was a kid so I thought, ‘Well I’ll take my idea, with my Kennedy imitation at work, get a Kennedy-looking wig and see what happens.’”
While the play does present McAndrews’ perspective on what would have happened if Kennedy had only been wounded in Dallas, it also offers a factual telling of his short-lived presidency. McAndrews made sure to consider his audience when writing both parts of the play, which he explains saying: “Certainly people in your generation would not be as intimately familiar with his presidency as people of my generation — I’m 60. So I thought for people who didn’t live through Kennedy’s presidency, it would be good to really introduce the play by informing them of the factual history of what occurred, hopefully in an entertaining way.”
“If JFK Survived Dallas” is sure to be entertaining, seeing that McAndrews made a distinctive effort to highlight Kennedy’s incredible sense of humor. However, perhaps a more somber feature of Kennedy’s presidency that McAndrews emphasizes is the skepticism JFK developed regarding his administration and the ways in which he was “steamrolled” into making controversial decisions. McAndrews notes, “He got some very bad advice within a few months of becoming president when all his advisors told him to support an invasion of Cuba by Cuban refugees; it was a dismal, dismal failure at the Bay of Pigs.” McAndrews respects Kennedy by showing how he could have changed the course of history had he acted differently, but humbles the main character at the same time by noting Kennedy’s limitations as president. McAndrews explains his restrictions, saying, “Some things change, some things are different, so perhaps the theme is that people can make a difference, but they don’t necessarily control all events.”
While Kennedy may not have had the power to control all events as president, McAndrews certainly does as a playwright. Audience members can expect to see a few changes to history, such as a quick withdrawal of troops from Vietnam, a delay of civil rights and an obvious absence of important policies implemented by President Lyndon Johnson. McAndrews’ vast knowledge of Kennedy and his administration gave him the confidence to make these revisions to history, but he was sure to fact check, nonetheless. He explains, “I was very confident about probably 90 percent of my facts but I then would go about fact checking to make sure that what I was saying was true or what I was predicting had an adequate basis in fact.”
McAndrews has been performing his one-man show for over three years, while also holding two day jobs: one as a managing partner of his own law firm and another as a political science professor at Villanova University. He believes that both professions have helped him in his theatrical endeavors.
“Courtroom work and teaching have a theatrical component to them. And both of them involve developing a comfort level of presenting, whether it’s point of view or whether it’s information or even a personality,” McAndrews said.
Aside from his additional occupations, McAndrews’ family has also helped his one-man show become a success. The collection of over 200 videos and photographs of Kennedy that play in the background while McAndrews speaks were obtained by his daughter, Jacqueline (COL ’11), and are played by his daughter, Caitlin (SFS ’06). The lively addition of pictures and videos is just one of several adaptations to the ever-developing play, which will feature another major revision in two to three months: By this time, McAndrews will have finished a second version that will include six to eight supporting characters, such as Jackie Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Bobby Kennedy and J. Edgar Hoover.
Brimming with historical conjecture, delightful humor and supposedly one heck of a Kennedy impression, “If JFK Survived Dallas” is sure to offer a compelling understanding of our 35th president. To learn more about the play, visit www.ifjfksurviveddallas.com and be sure to come out this Saturday at 8 p.m. to McNeir Auditorium to experience it firsthand.