Berwyn lawyer's play posits life if JFK had lived

Dennis C. McAndrews with a photo of him performing his play in Ireland. It is premised on President John F. Kennedy's surviving the shooting in Dallas.
Dennis C. McAndrews with a photo of him performing his play in Ireland. It is premised on President John F. Kennedy's surviving the shooting in Dallas. (CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 24, 2013

After John F. Kennedy survived an assassination attempt on that fateful Friday 50 years ago, the United States did not send hundreds of thousands of troops to Vietnam, Kennedy became a faithful husband, and his son did not die in a small-plane crash.

That is the way history unfolds in the one-man play If JFK Survived Dallas: Presidential Reflections at Age 96, written and performed by local lawyer Dennis C. McAndrews.

The script presents a "what if" look at what would have happened if a defining moment in U.S. history were redefined.

McAndrews, 59, whose office is in Berwyn, quotes Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill with ease, but it was Kennedy's life and death that captured his imagination. He was a fifth-grader the day Kennedy was shot.

McAndrews is best known as a prosecutor in one of the region's most notorious - and most unusual - murder cases: the trial of John Eleuthere du Pont, an heir to the chemical fortune, who killed Olympic gold-medal wrestler David Schultz at his Newtown Square estate in 1996.

In McAndrews' version of events, Kennedy is struck in the neck by the second of three bullets fired by Lee Harvey Oswald as the presidential motorcade passed the Texas School Book Depository on Nov. 22, 1963. In the play, Kennedy survives with a neck wound, but his voice is altered.

"It's been a labor of love," McAndrews said of writing the play. The show, he said in a recent interview, has a multimedia component, with historic photos and videos projected on a screen during his monologue.

McAndrews dictated the script into a recorder while traveling back and forth to Northeast Pennsylvania for a case and revised it at night.

"I do have a day job," he said.

Actually, McAndrews has one and a half day jobs.

He is an adjunct professor of political science at Villanova University, where he earned his undergraduate and law school degrees.

The first performance of the play was at the Saturday Club in Wayne before about 150 of McAndrews' friends in June 2010.

His only previous acting experience was in fourth grade, when he played the lead in the Elmhurst Elementary School play "The King and his Cream Puffs."

"I got to eat the cream puff at the end," said McAndrews, who remembers nothing more about the plot.

Since then, he has performed his JFK play on Martha's Vineyard; in Sackets Harbor, N.Y.; in Ireland; and at Villanova University as a benefit for Mother's Home, a shelter for homeless pregnant women in Darby Borough.

"He's really good," said Joseph McGettigan, who prosecuted the sexual abuse case against former Pennsylvania State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, and who joined the McAndrews Law Offices in April. The two were co-counsels in the du Pont prosecution.

McGettigan, who liked the play enough to catch a second performance, said McAndrews' heart was in the part.

As much as he liked the script, "He was better than the material," McGettigan said of McAndrews.

McAndrews wears a beard for the role as the elderly Kennedy.

The show is a work in progress. McAndrews continues to refine his presentation, occasionally adding or subtracting elements.

In the play, Oswald is not murdered by Jack Ruby, who isn't motivated to kill him because Kennedy lived. Oswald is tried and executed for the attempted assassination. "Some of the prosecutor in me wanted to see what would have happened in a trial," McAndrews acknowledged.

Though JFK lives on, Bobby Kennedy does not.

In the play, the president does not send massive numbers of troops to Vietnam, which falls to the communists in 1967, followed by Laos and Cambodia.

"I was not going to send thousands of Americans to a swamp on the other side of the globe to defend a country which cared less about its government than we did," the Kennedy character says.

He instead commits to helping Thailand, which has a strong pro-Western government.

The decision to leave Vietnam to the communists tarnishes Kennedy's reputation in the short run. Bobby Kennedy runs for president to preserve the family's legacy, but is assassinated during the 1968 campaign.

The play also addresses Kennedy's marital affairs.

"He did not have restraint when it came to women," McAndrews said, calling the infidelities Kennedy's greatest personal tragedy.

In the play, Kennedy concludes "perhaps the one positive aspect of being shot was that it allowed me to take stock of my life and leave that infidelity and risk-taking behind me."

McAndrews' version of Kennedy ends up spending more time with his family and is able to warn John Jr. about the risks of flying small planes, saving his life.

The former president is appointed ambassador to Ireland by President Bill Clinton. He remarries in 2001, several years after Jackie's death.

Next up, McAndrews might take on a book project. He said he might consider writing a first-person account of how a big case such as the one involving du Pont affects all participants.

Said McAndrews, "It was the longest year and a half of my life."

McAndrews will perform his play at 7 p.m. Oct. 21 at Conestoga High School in Berwyn as a public service event of the Foundation for Learning in Tredyffrin/Easttown. Admission is free.

He also will perform in Laredo, Texas, in November.


JFK PLAY

What: "If JFK Survived Dallas: Presidential Reflections at Age 96."

When: 7 p.m. Oct. 21.

Where: Conestoga High School, Irish Road, Berwyn.

Admission: Free.


610-313-8111

mschaefer@phillynews.com

@MariSchaefer

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