Best Medicine Rep Theater’s “Play Date” is not what you might expect from its title. While the tots are indeed having fun, explained playwright and company founder John Morogiello, their parents’ lives are falling apart.
“On the surface,” Morogiello continued, the play “seems like a standard, door-slamming farce. People run around, screaming and being silly. But all six characters are played by the same two actors, running in and out, quickly changing their costumes. It’s frenetic and hilarious, but with many poignant moments about how your life changes once children arrive.”
Morogiello is well acquainted with the challenges of stay-at-home parents as he was one “many years ago.” Back then, he and a fellow stay-at-home parent, actor-writer Lori Boyd, began collaborating on creating a show on the subject, but somehow “the idea lost steam.” A decade later, Morogiello “unearthed our notes” and Boyd gave him her OK to proceed solo.
Vermont’s Oldcastle Theatre Company gave “Play Date” its 2015 premiere. “The script went from my imagination to a full production in a matter of months,” Morogiello recalled. Still, the playwright—who said he reworks his scripts constantly—continued to hone it. He happily acquiesced when Director Jackob G. Hofmann “insisted that I concentrate on the relationships and the needs of the characters” for a subsequent reading in Baltimore through the Dramatists Guild. As a result, Morogiello said, the reading was “very well received.”
In April 2018, Best Medicine Rep—now in its third full season—presented “Play Date” at its Lakeforest Mall home base “to thunderous acclaim,” according to Morogiello. “We loved the production and didn’t want to see it go away. It’s a play that makes an audience feel good. It brings people together, which is what Best Medicine Rep’s mission is about.” Thus, “Play Date” will return to Gaithersburg, this time on the Arts Barn stage from Feb. 7 to 23.
Best Medicine “will be running an equity production of my ‘Comedy of Venice’ concurrently with ‘Play Date.’ Conceivably, you could see ‘Venice’ on a Saturday afternoon, and see ‘Play Date’ that evening,” Morogiello said.
“This production of ‘Play Date’ won’t really differ from the last one. I have the same wonderful cast,” said Melissa B. Robinson, who will direct it again. “It’s a serio-comic farce; we will bring out the poignancy and the antics. The set may be a bit more minimalist, but it’s the same show that highlights how we see ourselves and others and how our own expectations change over time and at different stages of life. It’s six very human stories wrapped up in a madcap 90 minutes.”
“The only difference,” qualified Morogiello, “is that we have someone else playing the offstage arms. The actress who played the arms last year found better work, where, presumably, the rest of her makes an appearance.”
Actress Kira Burri, who came from Los Angeles to study acting at The Catholic University of America, revisits the roles of the three mothers. “When I was first working with these characters last year, I wanted to focus on each mother’s personal background and figure out why they made the choices they did to be where they are today. … I was fascinated by how seemingly small choices in the character’s past can sure make a big impact later in life,” she said. “This time around, I am focusing more on each mother’s relationship to the men in this play, and how they push and challenge each other to be better people.”
“I love the fact that while this show depicts parenting and the successes and struggles that come with it, you also get to see who they are as individuals outside of their kids. It’s a great look into how to keep your identity and individuality while also trying to give 110 percent of yourself to the people around you,” Burr observed. “It reminds us that even though parents are perfect in their children’s eyes, they are still human like the rest of us.”
Returning to reprise the roles of the three fathers is Evan Crump, a Silver Spring native with a master of fine arts degree in acting from Mary Baldwin University’s Shakespeare and Performance program and a slew of local acting credits.
He believes that the script clearly delineates his characters. “The beauty of the writing is that the characters are laid out right there for you. At the pace this play runs and with the swift changes from character to character, you need to be able to establish in just a few words and gestures who these people are and what makes them tick, and John achieves that,” he said.
As for changes to his own performance, he said, “I hope to be able to find even more of the grounded human individuals that live inside these cartoonish comedic engines. I think the best comedy comes from being able to walk that line between showing a heightened reality while still portraying people you can relate to and care about.”
Crump said there is much to love about “Play Date”—“its frenetic pace and how it manages to be farcical and zany without sacrificing believability in its characters. They might be over-the-top, but you can see yourself or someone you know in these six parents as they beat their heads against the brick wall that is raising a kid in the 21st century.”
Morogiello “really touches on something genuine, the sort of exhausted, competitive, desperate desire to find something, anything of one’s own personality in the midst of devoting one’s full life to their offspring,” Crump said.
The offstage arms will be those of Rebecca A. Herron, who holds a bachelor of fine arts in performance from the University of Miami and is a founding member of the company. The Houston, Texas, native has seen “Play Date” many times since its Baltimore reading.
“I enjoyed the production as an audience member in our theater in Lakeforest Mall, and I’m going to have a blast as the arms,” she said. “Though it’s just my arms, they won’t leave any question as to what my character wants to do. The scene is hilarious. The other actor has all the words, but my hands will tell him everything!”
The Arts Barn audience, promised Director Robinson, can expect to have “a rollicking good time and probably see a little bit of themselves in one or all of the characters at some point. Maybe not at their nuttiest points, but somewhere.”
Best Medicine Rep presents John Morogiello’s “Play Date” from Feb. 7 to 23 at the Arts Barn, 311 Kent Square Road. Shows start at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Recommended for ages 15 and older. Tickets are $20, $18 for students, ages 15 to 21. Call 301.258.6394.