‘Hearts, Spades, And Bullets’: An Entertaining Performance

CHAUTAUQUA – Participants in a Chautauqua-based Road Scholar program were entertained Tuesday evening by a performance of a recently-written play by Chautauqua resident David Zinman. The play is titled ”Hearts, Spades, and Bullets,” and the performance took place in the parlor of the Hotel Athenaeum.

The Road Scholar program, which until recently was known as Elderhostel, is an international organization which schedules what they describe as ”educational adventures,” for participants, which take place at more than 6,000 locations, on all seven continents. The current program is titled ”Foreign Policy in the 21st Century,” and is being presented by the American Foreign Service Assn.

The performing company was the Chautauqua Play Reading Association, a volunteer-based organization which usually meets in members’ homes, usually outside the regular Chautauqua season. The association was founded by Bob McClure, a year-round Chautauqua resident who brings interested theater lovers together to present staged readings of published plays, often with the aim of getting everyone familiar with the plays which will be produced by the Chautauqua Theater Company, during the approaching summer season.

”Hearts, Spades and Bullets,” had its world premiere on the final day of the 2013 season. The performance was so successful that it was repeated as a radio drama, on a local radio station, and now was being performed for the participants in Road Scholar.

The play is based on a true story. John and Myrtle Bennett were a childless couple in their thirties, living in Kansas City, Kansas. John, who was much bigger and stronger than his frail wife, had a history of fierce temper explosions. One evening, while playing a game of bridge with another couple, John and Myrtle had a major argument over how one hand should have been played.

John reached across the card table and slapped his wife three times, hard, across the face. She went into a neighboring room, retrieved an automatic pistol which he owned, and fired four shots, two of which struck her husband and killed him.

The rest of the play alternates between the courtroom, where a demure Myrtle answers questions sweetly for an aggressive prosecutor and her theatrical defense attorney, and the breakfast table of the couple who were playing bridge with the Bennetts, on the night of the shooting, as they read the newspaper’s version of what had taken place at the trial.

Acting in the performance were Gwen Tigner as Myrtle, Bob Reeder as John, Alice O’Grady and Carl Badger as the bystanders, Gerry Vanim as the prosecutor, and Don Kirsch as the defense attorney. McClure directed, and read necessary stage directions, indicating that the scene had now changed to the courtroom, or to the bystanders’ house, etc.

The performance was very entertaining. A staged reading is never the same as a full staged production, but the entire idea of the plot and a good deal of subtle characterization was clearly communicated. The result probably is not bound for Broadway, but was most entertaining.