While it’s a pretty safe bet that he has nothing else in common with Mickey Rooney, John Morogiello is definitely the guy saying, “Hey, let’s put on a show!” Unlike Rooney, who first uttered the line in 1937’s classic musical “Babes in Arms,” Morogiello isn’t asking his audiences to trek over to his uncle’s barn to get their theatrical fix. He just wants them to stop by next time they visit the local suburban shopping mall.
“We’d been doing readings in the Community Room since January 2017—once a month,” said Morogiello, the Gaithersburg-based playwright, actor, teacher and president of Best Medicine Rep. “Sometime in August, I reached out to the mall and said, ‘Could we fill one of your spaces?’ The management company said, ‘Let’s give this a try.’
“They said yes, but on a temporary basis. So, it’s real seat-of-the-pants, fly-by-night stuff.”
And so, through the magic of smoke-and-mirrors (and pipe-and-drape), Morogiello and his Best Medicine Rep board have transformed a former toy store in the Lakeforest Mall into a black box theatre, with space for ticket sales and concessions, backstage dressing areas for actors, and seating for up to 60 patrons at a time.
“The City of Gaithersburg is behind us all the way,” said Morogiello. “They’re very supportive of pop-up theater, so we are trying to make ourselves as portable as possible.
“We looked at a number of spaces in the mall, and as soon as we saw this one we knew. It has everything that we need.” There are chairs in the lobby, pictures on the wall, T-shirts by Young Artists of Maryland’s Pat Cruz, who also designed the Best Medicine Rep logo—and a performance space that is infinitely adaptable.
“That’s what we’re looking for,” he said. “Something that’s professional, but guerilla theater, you know? It can be moved and taken anywhere as needed.
“For ‘The Consul, The Tramp, and America’s Sweetheart,’ the director asked that it be an arena,” explained Morogiello, referring to the inaugural production, a staging of his comedy about international relations in the pre-World War II era. “For our next play it’ll have to be a proscenium. We’ve got a number of lights, and hopefully, we won’t blow any fuses.”
The Texas-born, Potomac-reared actress Lori Boyd grew up singing in her father’s church. “I’ve always been performing; we all grew up singing—the Mallow Family Quartet,” she said. “I’ve mixed it up, on and off, doing theater and singing in a band with my sisters; doing independent films, extra work, stuff like that.”
When she had children—Boyd’s daughters are both successful performers—she “kind of took a backseat, became more of a supporter. Now, both of them are doing well, and I’m getting back into it.”
Which means joining her longtime friend and theatrical collaborator Morogiello and taking one of the title roles in “The Consul, The Tramp, and America’s Sweetheart.”
“This is actually my first acting role in a while,” said Boyd, who has performed and recorded with her family’s Radio King Orchestra as part of the Fabulous Pincurl Girls. “It’s a comeback, you could say!”
And a reunion of sorts: Boyd met Morogiello at a one-act play festival when their now-20-something kids were small; they shared playdates and worked together on theater projects, most notably Morogiello’s “Irish Authors Held Hostage,” in which Boyd and her “The Consul, The Tramp, and America’s Sweetheart” castmate Terrance Heffernan costarred. Since then, she has been in a handful of Morogiello’s plays; this is her first role in a Best Medicine Rep production.
“It’s about Mary Pickford,” she said. “She was one of the first movie stars, worked her way up from an actress in silent movies to a studio head.”
It’s a role that Boyd relishes, one she thinks women can relate to and one especially relevant in today’s political climate. “It’s very current for a lot of different reasons,” she said. “This takes place toward the end of both Charlie Chaplin’s and Mary Pickford’s careers, before ‘The Great Dictator.’ The play is about Chaplin wanting to get that picture made, and the German consulate not wanting it made at all.”
The hilarity that ensues, she is quick to point out, is even-handed in classic Morogiello style, with “womanizer” Chaplin the target of as many jokes as the hapless German consul. “In his plays, John makes fun of everybody,” Boyd observed. “He makes light of events but not in an offensive way.
“It’s a comedy,” she added, “but it has its dramatic moments—which is usually how John’s plays go.”
Prime the pump
Rebecca Herron can vouch for that.
“We may make you cry, too,” said Herron, Best Medicine Rep’s vice president. “But we are definitely going to make you laugh. There’s room for both!”
The veteran of the local theater scene sees this production as an important milestone for the year-old company—and a huge step forward for fans of professional theater living in the D.C. suburbs.
“What professional theater is there in Gaithersburg? Us,” she said. “So, if you’re in Gaithersburg and you like theater, there are a few community theaters you can go to. Or, you can drive to Olney; or, you can drive to Bethesda, or D.C. or even Northern Virginia.
“But the thing is: Those aren’t here.” And that’s what makes Best Medicine Rep so special.
“I’ve lived in this area since 1997,” said Morogiello. “I love this city. We’re the fourth-largest city in Maryland by population; we need someplace to go in the evening to have some fun. That’s what this theater company is all about.”
Morogiello loves the idea of storefront theater, and he thinks that theater in a mall is a way to take that idea to the next level.
“According to the Maryland State Arts Council, each dollar spent on the arts brings $3.60 back into the regular economy,” he said. “So, if we can prime the pump, as it were, and give the city something they can relate to, something that can bring people together and give them a sense of pride and ownership, we’ll do that.”
And if they can do that using comedy, so much the better.
Best Medicine Rep Theater Company presents “The Consul, The Tramp, and America’s Sweetheart” at Best Medicine Rep, Lakeforest Mall, 701 Russell Ave., Suite H205 (second floor, near Sears) in Gaithersburg from Jan. 18 through Feb. 10. Performances start at 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and at 2:30 p.m. (no performance Sunday, Jan. 21). Tickets, $25, are available at http://bestmedicinerep.org. Learn more about this event on CultureSpotMC here.