A high school drama teacher with a missing wife and a penchant for show tunes. When it comes to the plot of Dan Noonan’s “Blue Over You,” that’s about all the Chicago playwright thinks should be revealed.
“It’s hard, because it’s kind of a mystery,” said Noonan. “It’s tricky: The audience doesn’t know, at first, what’s happening.”
They will if they were at last summer’s Capital Fringe Festival. That’s where Gaithersburg actor-playwright John Morogiello first brought Noonan’s one-man-show to life, courtesy of his Best Medicine Rep Theater. He’s bringing it back now, for one weekend only, to close the fledgling professional theater company’s first season at its Lakeforest Mall digs. It’s definitely a play with twists and turns — and the playwright doesn’t want to spoil the surprise.
“I wanted to write a one-person story where you have kind of an unreliable narrator,” Noonan said. “He’s got a lot of energy and enthusiasm — and at the end of the play, there’s hope.”
Hope is a trademark of Noonan’s work. The playwright was diagnosed HIV positive when he was just 13, infected by a blood transfusion that was part of his treatment for hemophilia.
“I started out as an actor,” he said, adding that hemophilia, a rare degenerative disease, “really limited the amount of physical acting I could do as I got older, so I started playwriting.”
Noonan said his mother “tried to expose us to everything growing up. She would take us to Broadway touring shows that were in town.”
Seeing “A Chorus Line” made a huge impression on the 9-year-old Noonan: “I just thought, ‘That’s something I want to be a part of.’” And so, he started performing in high school, and then at Boston College. “It sort of became my life’s passion at that point.”
After graduation, he found that he wasn’t physically able to pursue a career in acting, and opted for a government job, because he needed steady work and health benefits. “It was scary,” he recalled. “I didn’t really think I’d grow up and live all that long, have a job, a career, a marriage and a family; all those blessings came to me, fortunately. I think that’s why I was so drawn to theater — it was a way to express all these feelings I had inside.
“I started to write in my off hours,” he explained, “because I so desperately wanted to be creative. For years, I just wrote at night and on the weekends.”
He took a night class in screenplay writing at Northwestern University, which led to him winning the university’s Agnes Nixon Playwriting contest while pursuing a master’s degree in theater. “I’ve been writing ever since,” he said.
It was at a playwriting festival that Noonan met John Morogiello, the award-winning actor-writer-educator whose longtime dream of starting a professional theater company in Gaithersburg led to the founding of Best Medicine Rep last year. Morogiello brought “Blue Over You” to the Capital Fringe Festival in July 2017. Now native Washingtonian Stan Levin returns as director for the play’s weekend reprise at Lakeforest Mall.
“I directed my first play in sixth grade,” said Levin, who went to Eastern Junior High and Montgomery Blair High School before heading off to New York University for a bachelor’s degree in film and theater. “I didn’t know what a director was at the time, but I directed it.”
Levin is part of a legendary chapter in the history of Montgomery County theater. “Between high school and college, I got involved with a group that was then called ‘Rockville Jesters,’ under the aegis of the City of Rockville, run by a powerhouse of a woman named June Allen who has since passed away,” he said. “The Rockville Jesters became Street 70, which became Round House Theatre. I was one of the founding participants in that.”
His directing career started off-off-Broadway — “that’s two offs!” — but a strike got in the way of his big break and he headed home. His by then off-Broadway show eventually made it to Broadway without him.
“This is where the tears well up in my eyes,” he said, but he’s only half serious. A job with the film unit of a government agency gave him a steady yet creative career along with time to devote to theater. Ten years before retiring, Levin noticed “there was something missing in my life; what was I not tending to?
“It occurred to me I had been ignoring the spiritual side of life for far too long.” He went “temple hopping” and landed at Temple Emanuel in Kensington. “One thing led to another; I started studying Biblical Hebrew again, I was asked to substitute for the cantor, then a couple of months later, I was asked to substitute for the rabbi.” He became a para-rabbi, took online classes and was ordained on June 26, 2008 — the culmination of yet another childhood dream.
His rabbinical duties added to a very full plate: Levin had become a playwright and director, and while directing “They’re Playing Our Song,” his female lead was Rebecca A. Herron. “I directed Becky in several other shows,” he explained. “And then Becky became the vice president of Best Medicine Rep—that’s how I met John.”
He directed several readings for Morogiello, “and then we did ‘Blue Over You’ for the Capital Fringe Festival last year.”
Levin said he talked the Best Medicine Rep head into reviving Noonan’s play. “I love the ‘Blue Over You’ script,” he said. “And because we’re in a different space, we’re not just repeating what we did last summer. We’re re-exploring the script, trying new values and variants.
“John’s a brilliant writer, but he’s also a first-rate actor — and a great guy to work with, by the way.”
“Directing a one-person play is very different,” he added. “It’s one-on-one, very intimate.”
And while he won’t give away any plot details, Levin said the play really hinges on the relationship between the audience and the protagonist.
“For me, the strongest element is how the audience feels about Francis,” he said. “That the audience likes the character, finds him engaging and charming and funny. Dan wrote an amazing character; once he has their trust, they’ll be willing to go on the journey with him.”
Best Medicine Rep presents “Blue Over You” from June 15 through 17 at its theater space on the second floor of the Lakeforest Mall, 701 Russell Ave., Gaithersburg. Easiest access is via the Green Flower entrance. Performances start at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $25, with discounts for seniors and groups. Visit www.bestmedicinerep.org.