A new professional theater company is coming to Montgomery County, Maryland. Best Medicine Rep, helmed by playwright John Morogiello, will focus on new comedies and judging from my conversation with John, these shows are sure to tickle your funny bone!
This season, Best Medicine Rep will offer a monthly series of readings out of the Community Room in Lakeforest Mall in Gaithersburg, Maryland. The company is also slated to perform a show at the Capital Fringe Festival this summer. I spoke to Mr. Morogiello about Best Medicine Rep in advance of their first reading – Bathroom Hate by Jennifer Falleto – to be performed this Sunday, February 12th.
Nicole: Hi John, Tell our readers a little about yourself and your background.
John Morogiello: I’m originally from New York. I studied theater at Stony Brook as an undergrad, and SUNY Albany for grad school. In fact, at Albany, I was in the same playwriting class as [Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright] Stephen Adly Guirgis. Clearly, he paid better attention to the professor than I. After I got married, I moved down to Maryland and continued to write. My plays are probably better known outside of this area, having been produced at Old Globe, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Vienna’s English Theatre, and Abingdon Theatre Company off-Broadway.
Locally, I think I’m better known as a teaching artist. I’ve been doing that for twenty years now, teaching playwriting in area schools as an artist in residence, first with Center Stage, then with the Maryland State Arts Council, and Young Audiences of Maryland.
What is Best Medicine Rep? What can audience members expect to see from you this season?
Best Medicine Rep is a professional theater company that specializes in new comedies. The name comes from an Irish proverb that says, “A good laugh and a long sleep are the best medicine for every ailment.” We promise to provide you with at least one of those two options!
We’ve set up shop in Gaithersburg, which is Maryland’s fourth largest city by population, yet doesn’t have a professional theater. We think it’s time for that to change, and we feel there’s enough economic expansion in the area to support it. Naturally, this is our first year, so we’re starting small. Currently, we have a monthly reading series, which is free to the public. A list of our planned readings can be found here. They are all comedies and all very funny.
What are your goals for Best Medicine Rep? You plan to exclusively present new works of comedy. Why comedy? What’s so great about laughing?
What’s so great about laughing??? If we can’t laugh, there’s no way we’ll survive the next four years! Punchlines and a fully stocked bunker are the only things that will save us! But no, I think comedy embodies all of human experience. The theater academic Eric Bentley once observed that tragedies are invariably named for an individual (Hamlet, Oedipus), while comedies are not. Comedies are about all of us, not just a single person. They foster community, and they have a larger range. They can be vulgar, they can be sweet. High and low. Verbal or physical or both. They can make you think and make you forget. Focus and divert.
But, having now made it seem like some sort of unholy quest, let me say again: We’re starting small. This year we’ve got the reading series, followed by a production of Dan Noonan’s brilliant Blue Over You at the Capital Fringe Festival. Our aim is to develop the scripts from the reading series into full productions. We hope to use the Gaithersburg Arts Barn for a while until we can get our own space. But we see ourselves as a storefront theater at first, kind of like MetroStage used to be, or like Venus in Laurel. Someplace that the Gaithersburg Community can point to with pride and feel a sense of ownership. After that, we move straight on to world domination.
There are several other theater companies already established in Montgomery County (Montgomery Playhouse, Olney Theatre Center, Round House Theatre, Sandy Spring Players, etc). What will set you apart from them? Which other companies are you a fan of?
I’m a fan of every theater company. Anytime someone strives to entertain and produce joy, I am their fiercest defender. I think what separates Best Medicine Rep is our dedication both to comedy and our local community. Olney and Round House are big. They will continue to draw people from all over the area. Montgomery Playhouse and Sandy Spring Players are wonderful outlets for the creativity of their communities, and I fully support them as well. We’ll have paid actors. I see us eventually becoming something more like the companies that you see at the Writer’s Center: Flying V, Quotidian, that sort of thing. But they’re in Bethesda. That might be too far away for people in Gaithersburg. We have all of these lovely neighborhoods now, with shops and restaurants, and miles and miles of sidewalk. But none of them has live entertainment. If you want to see a show after dinner, you need to hop in a car and leave town. We think you should be able to walk there.
How do you choose plays to produce?
Our dramaturg, Heather Helinsky, recommended many of the ones we’re doing this season. She reads for Sundance, the O’Neill, and a bunch of other places. Not only does she know every playwright in the country, she knows what they plan to write next. Occasionally, we’ll do a play of mine, but I don’t want the company to be about me. Currently, we are accepting script submissions for next year’s reading series through the end of the month. So, if there are any playwrights reading this, send us a comedy. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Our artistic committee will make final decisions by August.
Tell us a bit about the reading This Sunday, February 12th at 3 pm. What can we expect from playwright Jennifer Faletto and her play Bathroom Hate?
Bathroom Hate is the story of five high school girls in Texas who discover shocking graffiti on the bathroom wall about a classmate doing something untoward with the state flag one week before homecoming. It’s a brilliant satire, with five amazing female roles. Jennifer was trained at Second City in Chicago and makes her living as an actress in Boulder. This is her first play. Her second play, Domestic Animals, was produced at CapFringe two years ago and got great reviews. As for what you can expect, our director, Stan Levin, is trying to get beyond the constraints of a table read as much as possible. He has props and costume pieces. We have five great actresses. It should look as good as a reading can look in an abandoned restaurant in a shopping mall.
How do you hope to grow in the future in terms of size, location, and productions?
We’ve applied to the Arts Barn for a two-show season beginning in the fall. In September, we’ll start up the next reading series. Hopefully, by 2018, we will have a storefront space somewhere in Gaithersburg or Montgomery Village. Eventually, we’d love to produce four or five shows per year, continue with the reading series, maybe bring in Baltimore Improv Group for a few nights. I’d also like to replicate a show in Connecticut I write sketches for, called Flagpole Radio Cafe. They bring in a musician or a band to perform a few songs, and the company presents comic sketches in a radio play format in between. Most of the sketches are based on local concerns, and they let the city provide local news and updates as part of the show. These are the dreams. We need to raise a lot of money before they become reality! Perhaps your readers can help in that regard.
Talk about the Short Plays by Playwrights of Montgomery County project you have planned for April?
Through my work as an artist in residence for the Maryland State Arts Council, I teach at a number of Montgomery County schools, usually fourth and fifth graders. Each class writes a play collaboratively based on a topic of the teacher’s choosing: Revolutionary War, Mystery Genre, Immigrant Narratives, etc. The kids usually perform their plays for parents in the end, and they’re hilarious. What I want to do in April, is take my four favorite plays from the past year and have them performed by our acting company. Professional actors doing kids plays is just fall down funny. I used to do this at Center Stage all the time, and it’s a wonderfully effective event. The kids are empowered, the audience is entertained, and everyone enjoys, once again, that unique sense of community that we strive to conjure with every visit to a theater.
Best Medicine Rep’s webpage says:
We believe that the comic theater is the cure for what ails us. But, having declared the above, we would like to make one thing clear: Shakespeare is dead. And if we see another production of A Midsummer’s Night Dream, we will collectively puke.
Allow me to channel my inner English teacher and say – you can’t make fun of Shakespeare! Does your statement suggest you will be on the lookout for fresh new plays?
Absolutely. Don’t get me wrong, I love Shakespeare. But I think five or six theater companies dedicated to his work are probably enough for one area. I can’t add anything more to what those companies are already doing. Best Med is interested in new comedies. There are a lot of them out there. Good ones. And audiences love comedy when it’s done well. But, unfortunately, most regional theaters aren’t producing new comedies.
Several of your own plays refer to classic works of literature. Engaging Shaw, Blame it on Beckett, Die, Mr. Darcy, Die, Jack the Ticket Ripper, and, Irish Authors Held Hostage. What is your relationship with the classics? Do you have one foot in the past and one in the future?
Well, my foot in the future enjoys ridiculing the foot in the past. Each foot fights to be the dominant lower extremity. The result is a silly walk. And that is the present. I’ve always liked smart comedy. I prefer it to the sort of domestic comedy that we sometimes see. But in order for comedy to work, there must be two things: a common understanding with the audience and a sacred cow to be demolished. Classic literature fill both of those gaps. We’ve all read these books in school. Whether we loved them or hated them doesn’t matter, we’ve experienced them and seen them placed on a pedestal. I like to knock them off the pedestal and examine their parallels to modern experience. I think the gods are more interesting when they are presented as human. It certainly worked for the ancient Greeks.
What are your most pressing needs as a fledgling theater troupe? How can people reading this article contribute to your theater?
As with any theater troupe, money is always an issue, unfortunately. We’re taking donations through our website, bestmedicinerep.org. Or you can mail them to us at P.O. Box 505, Gaithersburg, MD 20884. Beyond money, we are still looking for a few more board members to help us with both fundraising and planning. If you like what we’re about, and think you can help us realize some of these dreams, reach out! But the biggest contribution anyone can give us is to come see what we’re offering. Come to one of our readings. They’re fun. They’re free. And what else are you going to do on a Sunday afternoon, now that football is over?
Bathroom Hate will be performed as a reading on Sunday, February 12, 2017, at 3 PM in the community room of the Lakeforest Mall – 701 Russell Avenue, in Gaithersburg, MD. Admission is free and no tickets are necessary. For information on future Best Medicine Rep performances, go to their website.
Playwright Jeniffer Faletto, talks to Best Medicine Rep about Bathroom Hate, writing comedy and lemurs: