As Denver playwright John Moore considered topics for the play he would write for the Mile High 24-Hour Play Festival on June 7, he came across New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd’s June 3 piece on getting too stoned on marijuana-infused edibles in Colorado.
“When Maureen Dowd’s words started sounding like actual dialogue from the 1936 film ‘Reefer Madness’ I knew I had to write about her experience,” said Moore, the former Denver Post theater critic who employed dialogue from the cult propagandist film to begin and end his new short play “Maureen Dowd’s Dark, Delicious Descent into Denver Hell.”
Moore joined seven other playwrights for the play festival, which had writers gather at 7 p.m. June 6 to randomly draw a director, genre, prop and actors. When he drew fantasy as his genre and a replica of a human brain as his prop, he knew he could work together a fantastical reenactment of what might have happened that scary (and stoney) night in Dowd’s hotel room at the Four Seasons in Denver.
Moore’s “Denver Hell” was staged twice on June 7 at the Spark Theater in Denver by director Deb Flomberg and a cast that included Lindsey I. Benge, Marq Del Monte, Karen Kargel and Desiree Phillips. Benge played Dowd, and she was surrounded by a chorus that featured, among others, marijuana tour guide Matt Brown and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
(If Moore’s Romney inclusion seems thoroughly left-field, read on.)
“Out of the eight plays, mine was the only one about real events,” said Moore. “For the audience members who had been following the story all week, they thought it was friggin’ hysterical … I was joking all week that there was an inevitable lawsuit to follow. Some people told me that they thought she would get a kick out of it, but I don’t know if she would.”
As a journalist with 30-plus years of experience at newspapers, magazines and online, Moore jumped at the opportunity to take on such a current, buzzed-about event.
“Typically it takes two years for a real play to be written and staged based on a real life event,” Moore said. “Being a journalist, people there thought it was appropriate that what I chose to write about was as fresh as the day’s headlines.”
Moore’s plot thickened when he learned that Dowd had also seen a screening of a Mitt Romney documentary while she was in Colorado exploring the state’s legal recreational pot industry.
“When I heard that there was a connection between the Mitt Romney documentary and her trip to Denver I thought it was so ripe for satire I couldn’t wait to give it a try,” he said. “It’s so ridiculous. The whole thing is absurd, and that usually makes for funny entertainment.”
How was the experience as a whole for Moore, who wrote the play in just a few hours?
“It was very energizing,” he said. “I’m a news junkie, so it was a gift. The second I read her column I knew it would be a funny play — that or a funny ‘Saturday Night Live’ skit — but since they’re on hiatus, I took the opportunity to put this out there.”
And while readers can check out the full text of Moore’s 9-page, 10-minute play via the link above, is there a future for “Denver Hell” — in production or publishing?
“I think it’s over,” he said. “There are all kinds of 10-minute play festivals, but I don’t think it’s that good. It’s funny in the moment, but next week when people forget all about this I don’t know who will even care.”