Murder and romance highlight a morning of one-acts Saturday

Katie McLean | Staff PhotographerActors Nancy Karp and Ralph Walton share a laugh while rehearsing the parts of Ruth and Harry LeBlanc in the one-act production of Alexandra Wednesday afternoon in Fletcher Music Hall.

Katie McLean | Staff Photographer

Actors Nancy Karp and Ralph Walton share a laugh while rehearsing the parts of Ruth and Harry LeBlanc in the one-act production of Alexandra Wednesday afternoon in Fletcher Music Hall.

On Sept. 29, 1929, a friendly game of bridge ended with murder.

After a couple lost a game of bridge to their friends, Myrtle Adkins Bennett shot her husband — while the neighbors were still in the living room.

The case, which made headlines across the nation as the “Bridge Table Murder,” is the inspiration for the one-act play David Zinman wrote titled Hearts, Spades & Bullets. This play will be presented at 10 a.m. Saturday in Fletcher Music Hall along with another of Zinman’s one-acts, Alexandra. The event is sponsored by the Friends of Chautauqua Theater. It is free to attend, though a donation is suggested; all donations will go toward CTC’s scholarship funds.

Of course, the 1929 murder case is more complicated than simply losing a bridge game. Throughout his work, Zinman weaves the actual events that took place that night as well as those that took place during the case — the domestic violence, the philandering husband and the dramatic trail. And, true to theatrical form, the end is a surprise.

“The true story has the most unusual ending,” said Bob McClure, a member of the Friends and the director of both productions. “It’s kind of like your mouth drops at the end of this play.”

The inspiration for the play came when Zinman was in a class learning how to play bridge. On the last day of the course, the teacher brought in one of the many newspapers that featured the murder on its front page.

“The teacher told us the story; it was so incredible,” Zinman said. “It’s a real story, a real case, and I thought that it could be used as drama.”

This will be the show’s second appearance at Chautauqua Institution — Zinman noted that it’s back by popular demand. Interestingly enough, his play will also appear at a regional bridge tournament later this year.

His other show, Alexandra, centers on Eddie, a bedridden reporter in New Orleans who rekindles a friendship in New York City with Harry, a former colleague. As the story progresses, Harry tells Eddie about a beautiful woman he has met named Alexandra. Eddie, whose wife has passed away, begins to fall for the woman despite having never met her.

This show was inspired by Zinman’s own experiences working for New York City’s Newsday and for the Associated Press in Louisiana. McClure said that almost all of the playwright’s shows are partially autobiographical.

Zinman has written three full-length plays and about a dozen one-acts. His pieces have premiered at places such as Louisiana State University and the University of South Carolina Upstate. Additionally, his one-act play Mr. Smart Ass was a finalist in the 2009 One-Act Play Contest sponsored by the Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival.

But before any of his works made it into a competition or a college theater, they all got their start here at Chautauqua, with staged readings in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall, Smith Wilkes Hall or Fletcher Music Hall.

These staged readings have been a tradition for the season’s last weekend for nearly a decade. Featuring cast members from a play reading group that McClure oversees, Saturday’s readings will use minimal props and sets.

The play reading group meets during the off-season to read approximately eight plays, two of which are pieces that CTC will produce next season. For example, the group will read A Raisin in the Sun during the upcoming off-season.

“Working on something and seeing it come to life, and the opportunity to give a little more support to something that I am fairly passionate about — it helps me sharpen my skills,” McClure said. “It also gives the readers who are in the play reading yet another opportunity to get better and to see that world [of theater] a little differently.”

For Zinman, this is an opportunity to workshop his plays with the help of an audience. After the two one-acts, each lasting between 30 and 45 minutes, there will be a talkback session for the audience to give their thoughts about each piece. This process is similar to that of CTC’s New Play Workshop series, in which playwrights have the opportunity to experience their work on its feet and to continue developing their pieces after the reading.

“When you write a play, you don’t hear your words; you’re just looking at them on paper,” Zinman said. “It’s a lot different when you hear it. That gives the playwright a chance to hear how the words sound in theater.”

McClure sees directing the two shows, even without all the theatrical glam of Bratton Theater, as a way to keep Chautauquans involved and learning about theater until the season’s end.

“[The audience] will get two terrific shows,” he said. “These are really interesting stories; that’s always good theater anyway.”