Playwright Megan Gogerty intended to have a very serious writing career.
Her controversial musical Love Jerry, which dealt with a pattern of child abuse within a family, was produced at Atlanta’s Actor’s Express and the New York Musical Theatre Festival to critical acclaim. She’s written other full-length plays that have received honors and workshops, too.
But she’s always had a goofy side, as illustrated by the tribute albums she’s made, dedicated to defunct TV shows like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Firefly.”
It’s that blend of quirky humor backed up with serious writing chops displayed in December in Synchronicity Theatre’s Feet First in the Water With a Baby in My Teeth, recently named one of the Top 10 shows of 2011 by Creative Loafing’s Curt Holman. Gogerty wrote and acted in the one-woman show about the intense emotional highs and occasional humiliations women endure in the name of motherhood.
“In college, I did a lot of monologue stuff, but I got away from it in my 20s,” Gogerty says, “because I was going to focus on more serious plays.” But when her hometown theater, Iowa City’s Riverside Theatre, asked if she had a monologue she’d like to perform in a short-works festival, she jumped at the chance.
The only problem was they wanted her to perform in February, the same month she was due to give birth. “They said, ‘It’ll be fine,'” she says, laughing. “So I got onstage for the first time in 10 years 11 days after giving birth.”
Her husband, with sleeping baby in tow, would drop her off at the stage door at 9 p.m. and then start driving around the block. By 9:15 p.m., she was onstage. At 9:30, she was taking her curtain call. Then she would race from the stage door to the car and head home, exhausted but exhilarated. Her piece about Hillary Clinton killed every night. “It went over like gangbusters because the Iowa caucus had happened the week prior and everyone had a Hillary Clinton story,” Gogerty says.
It was so popular that the theater asked her to create a one-woman show around it for their upcoming season. Gogerty remembers: “They said, ‘What do you have?’ I said, ‘I have a drawer full of monologues.’ They said, ‘Give us a title, and we’ll give you two weeks.'” She took some material about her post-Sept. 11 political awakening, mixed in some stories about getting pregnant and poof: Hillary Clinton Got Me Pregnant was birthed.
It was a phenomenal success. “It was the first show in their 30-year history that sold out before it opened,” Gogerty says. “Their marketing was basically: ‘Remember that woman who did that thing about Hillary Clinton? Well the whole play is basically that.’ ”
Despite the enthusiastic response, Gogerty still felt she should spend her time writing more “serious” plays. Then she went to Atlanta to perform Hillary Clinton with Synchronicity Theatre and realized that what she was experiencing might not be a fluke.
“I started thinking that maybe I should be doing monologue plays,” Gogerty says. She knew the other plays were OK and that people liked them, but people loved the monologue plays. And she enjoyed performing again. “It allows me to cut out the middle man and connect directly with the audience,” she explains.
She asked her mentor, playwright Sherry Kramer, if it would be crazy for her to focus more on solo work. Kramer, who’s known Gogerty for nearly 20 years, replied: “Look, you’re a fine playwright. But there are a lot of fine playwrights in the world. Not everybody can do this, but you can — really well. So why don’t you play to your strengths?”
For Gogerty, that was a revelation. She started work on another one-woman show and pitched it to Riverside Theatre. They told her they’d like to open their season with it. When she asked if they’d like to read it first, they said “No.” “No other theater supports me like they do,” she says. “I’m very lucky.”
Because she felt Hillary Clinton was kind of “slapdash,” she called in longtime collaborator Alexis Chamow to help direct and shape the piece. They workshopped the play, Feet First in the Water With a Baby in My Teeth, at the Pasadena Playhouse. This year, Synchronicity and Riverside joined forces to give the show a joint world premiere.
Here’s some audience reactions from the opening night in Atlanta earlier this month.
And here’s Gogerty’s review of the show.
“The play is semi-autobiographical, which means that everything is true and some of the things actually happened,” Gogerty says, laughing again. “And I have no idea what I’ll write next.”
For more information or to purchase tickets, go to synchrotheatre.com.