A playwright with a passion for silent films is the winner of FutureFest 2015, the annual festival of new plays hosted by the Dayton Playhouse. After an non-stop weekend showcasing six new plays, the $1,000 award was presented at the final ceremony on Sunday night to John Morogiello of Montgomery Village, Maryland.
His drama, “The Consul, the Tramp and America’s Sweetheart,” focuses on historical figures including famed actors Charlie Chaplain and Mary Pickford and a Nazi consul to Hollywood, George Gyssling. The plot centers around the pressure placed on the United Artists film studio, headed by Pickford, to stop production of Chaplain’s controversial first talkie, “The Great Dictator.”
The weekend’s Audience Favorite was “Blue Over You” by Dan Noonan of Evanston, Ill. The one-man show is about a high school drama teacher whose wife is missing. The play, featuring local actor Robb Willoughby, received the weekend’s only standing ovation.
Adjudicator Ashley Rodbro, a writer-producer-director from New York, said “The Consul, the Tramp and America’s Sweetheart” was special for a number of reasons. “What a command the playwright had of theater as an art form,” she said. “There were wonderful moments where time froze, and others where we got to see Charlie Chaplain the way we’d known him.” Judge Jana Robbins, an actor and producer from New York, said she was trembling after watching the play. “The themes are original and important, and the dialogue is crisp and funny,” she said. “It really gets my imagination going. As a producer, I can see the lights, the special effects. I see this play moving on.”
Morogiello said he had always been a huge fan of silent films and a huge enemy of the Nazis. The inspiration for his play, he explained, resulted from a book he’d read about Gyssling. “Three months ago I’d had nothing but rejections from this play, and I kept telling my wife I thought it was good and didn’t understand why no one had picked it up. Then I got this wonderful e-mail from Dayton, and I was tremendously excited. I had known about this contest and its reputation for 25 years.” He labeled the weekend both ”joyous” and “amazing” and said it was a huge help to see his play onstage and to get feedback from the judges and the audience. “It’s rare to see such active audience participation in the development process of a new play,” he said.
Morogiello said he hopes his audiences have a good time and that they are exposed to a part of history they might not have known. “I like telling stories, being creative and making people laugh,” he said. “I don’t think anyone chooses to be a playwright and live a life with very little money and a lot of rejection. I think it’s a calling.”