Theaters have gone dark during the pandemic, with little certainty about when or whether actors and audiences can again gather in the same space to tell and listen to stories that illuminate our lives. Best Medicine Rep, a small professional company located in Gaithersburg, is doing its part to create some points of light.
The company’s first effort, Stories I May Not Tell, a monologue written and performed by company artistic director John Morogiello and directed by Stan Levin, was taped before a small, invited, socially distanced and masked audience and is being streamed on Vimeo.
Morogiello has extensive experience teaching theater in Maryland schools, and the initial part of the piece is a delightfully delivered lesson in play structure, with references to Cinderella and several popular movies. Morogiello gives a high-energy, highly entertaining performance, sometimes briefly dipping into the voice of a character he is describing. His cadences are sometimes reminiscent of John Oliver’s on Last Week Tonight.
There’s plenty of humor in this introductory portion of the program, aided by Morogiello’s excellent comic timing, appropriate to a group the mission statement of which is “To entertain. To bring joy. To foster community and learning through shared laughter. To lighten our shared burden of existence for a short while.” There’s certainly a need for all of that these days.
Interestingly, however, the three stories that Morogiello tells after the introduction are all much more in the realm of drama than comedy. All are written in a compact fashion filled with telling and specific detail.
The first, “Founding Father,” concerns the growing estrangement between Benjamin Franklin and his illegitimate, and ultimately Loyalist, son, William. The second, ”Teaching Artist,” is a complex tale of the interaction among a visiting theater instructor — a Nigerian-American woman, in the story — and several students in a West Baltimore high school.
The third, “This God-Blest Country,” is essentially a biographical sketch of Morogiello’s father-in-law. A teenager drafted into the World War II German army, he survived to immigrate to the U.S., where he succeeded in building a life and a family. In addition to celebrating the life of an apparently remarkable man, the story is also an emotional tribute to what this country can be, at its best.
All three stories, Morgoriello said, have been occupying his brain for many years, but he has never written a play about them and may never do so. Why? In the case of the Franklin story, the father-son conflict was mostly carried on through correspondence across the Atlantic, making dramatizing it on stage problematic. Concerning his father-in-law’s story, which is clearly highly significant to Morogiello personally, he thought its sprawling character might be better suited to a movie than a play.
Morogiello questioned whether, as a white man, he could tell authentically the story of African-American characters, principally women, in the “Teaching Artist” segment. Even though many parts of the story are based on his personal experiences, he was concerned that he might be viewed as the wrong person to tell it. “Truth is a terrible defense when the offense is perception,” he commented.
The setting, in Best Medicine Rep’s performance space in Lakeforest Mall, was simple — a chair, a side table, and a white board, of which Morogiello made good use in the Cinderella segment to illustrate the structural points he made. The brief sound design included a creaky ship in the Franklin story, a noisy classroom in the school segment, and snatches of the familiar theme of Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” in the final story.
Whether or not these ideas ever become plays, they are wonderful stories, and Morogiello is a top-notch storyteller, whose varied voice, physicality, and emotional tone never allow interest to falter. In his performance there’s the comfortable sense of someone having a conversation with his listeners. It’s well worth tuning in.
Best Medicine Rep will be continuing its season with two more streamed shows this fall and two hopefully live performances in the winter and spring. In addition, the group has scheduled a series of free readings between next week and early March.
Running Time: One hour 20 minutes.
Stories I May Not Tell is available as a pay-per-view streaming production through October 4. For tickets, go to www.bestmedicinerep.org. On the “Our Season” tab there is a link where you can purchase the $10 ticket.