Gaithersburg playwright John Morogiello’s work has been performed all over the world, including Theatre 40 in Beverly Hills, Ca. His earliest works—written on his mom’s old manual typewriter—were set in less glamorous locales.
“She loaded up a piece of paper for me, showed me how it worked, and I immediately started plagiarizing old episodes of ‘F Troop’ and ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show,’” recalled Morogiello. “I’ve been writing dialogue, writing plays, from the beginning. And always comedies.”
These days, however, Morogiello’s location of choice is Gaithersburg, a place he says has everything—except for a permanent professional theater company. “Gaithersburg is the fourth largest city in Maryland,” he pointed out. “We have all this new development and urban living—they have gorgeous walkways and restaurants and shops—but no entertainment venues.
“If they want live entertainment in Gaithersburg, they have to leave. We want to change that.”
By “we” Morogiello means Best Medicine Rep Theater Company, the nonprofit professional theater company he founded last year with Rebecca A. Herron, Misty Demory, Kari Luther Rosbeck and Ben Leffler to develop and produce comedies in Gaithersburg. “We see ourselves as kind of a storefront theater, an Off-Broadway theater, doing fun shows that people can enjoy and get behind,” Morogiello said. “Professional quality shows.”
He kicked off Best Medicine Rep’s reading series at the Community Room at the Lakeforest Mall in January with a reading of his play “Die, Mr. Darcy, Die!” and plans a host of upcoming events including a one-man show at the Capital Fringe festival this summer.
“We applied to the Arts Barn to do a two-show season next year,” he added. “We do as much as possible to stay in Gaithersburg.” Why? Well, Morogiello, a New York native, has lived in the Montgomery Village area of Gaithersburg since 1997. “My kids grew up here. I know the community,” he said. “When I first moved down here in 1990, the very first thing I auditioned for was at Montgomery Playhouse. I loved Gaithersburg and it was always a big part of what I wanted to do.”
He always knew what he wanted to do, even after the “F-Troop” obsession wore off and he became involved into acting at high school in Peekskill (where he was voted Most Dramatic). “When I was 18, I started taking it a little more seriously,” he said. “Then I realized: No one was writing funny roles for tall, skinny 18-year-old kids.”
So, he started writing sketches and self-producing them. He earned a bachelor’s degree in theater from SUNY Stony Brook and a master’s from SUNY Albany, where Pulitzer-winning playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis was a year ahead. An actor friend suggested getting into the New Haven Theater scene, close to Yale and New York City, and Morogiello made the move.
“I started working at the Long Wharf Theatre in their literary office, and I just kept writing all the time,” he explained. “It’s become fodder for my plays: ‘Jack the Ticket Ripper?’ That’s Long Wharf house management right there. ‘Blame it on Beckett’ is set in a literary office.”
That’s how the playwright rolls: using everything around him to create his little comedic worlds.
“Maybe it’s because my hearing is so bad,” laughed Morogiello, who wears a hearing aid. “I listen very hard.”
For ‘Die, Mr. Darcy, Die!’ he went on Facebook, asking women friends to give him their worst dating experiences to put in a play. “I took all those stories and put them into one person’s story,” he said, adding, “I never put my own life onstage because my own life is so boring.
“At no time did I go on a killing spree.”
What he did do was marry his high school sweetheart—“We announced our engagement and everybody yawned”—and move to Maryland when she got a job offer too lucrative to turn down.
“Betsy was kind enough to say, ‘Why don’t you write fulltime,’ and D.C. and Maryland had such a vibrant acting scene,” he said. “I took five years off to be a stay-at-home dad. I gave up acting in ‘94—thought I could do my writing during naps.” And as it turned out, he could.
But while he was writing and raising the Morogiello boys, the playwright branched out in another direction. When he heard that Center Stage was looking for teaching artists to help teachers incorporate the arts into the curriculum, he applied for the post.
“They trained me,” he said. “Originally, it was just Baltimore. Center Stage wanted to expand their outreach to Montgomery County, but the money was never quite there for that.”
Still, when Center Stage lost its grant, Morogiello called the Maryland State Arts Council. “I said, ‘Hey, you’ve got all these amazing artists-in-residence, in every area except playwriting. This marvelous program has lost its funding—can you pick up the slack?’
“They said, ‘We’re on it.’ And I’ve been with them since 2001—it’s a ton of fun.”
It has become a bit of a mission: providing professional development for teachers and working with children at five schools in Montgomery County and one in Baltimore. He calls it “tremendously gratifying,” and it’s clear that the earthy humor and creative abandon the kids bring to the table provide the playwright with inspiration.
On a parallel track, however, Morogiello found his writing career thriving along with his teaching career. In 1994, his play “Gianni Schicci” was performed at Rep Stage in Columbia, Md. Since then, his career has been on the upswing: In 2002, his “Irish Authors Held Hostage” inspired the Washington Post to compare him to Tom Stoppard—and helped him sell his previous works, “Engaging Shaw” and “Blame it on Beckett.”
“‘Irish Authors’ was my way back in to playwriting,” he said, noting that the Stoppard comparison “is what takes you from occupation: stay-at-home-dad to occupation: playwright. That was the turning point.
“When ‘Engaging Shaw’ was done in New York and the New York Times gave it an incredible review, Norman Lear emailed me to congratulate me.
“I thought it was a joke.”
Maybe everything seems like a joke when you are a playwright who deals strictly in comedy, but Morogiello is serious about giving back. That’s where Best Medicine Rep comes in. He envisions fundraisers for arts-related causes and charities that help kids even as the theater company shines a light on young actors and playwrights and adds a sense of community to Gaithersburg. “I’ve gotten a lot from the schools. I try to give a lot, especially now,” he said. “We need to spotlight the arts locally in our school.
“I think theater is going away from the big, ‘Kennedy Center model’ to smaller, local—a storefront in every town
“I think that is the future of theater.”
The next Best Medicine Rep Reading Series event is “Bathroom Hate: a comedy about Texas, Homecoming and Revolution” by Jennifer Faletto at 3 p.m. Feb. 12 in The Community Room at Lakeforest Mall, 701 Russell Ave., Gaithersburg. Visit http://bestmedicinerep.org.