To Thine Own Self: My Unlikely Friendship with John Cariani

If you look on the page about the members of the Board, you’ll notice I’ve designated myself the “Playwright-in-Residence.” Yes, I’m a playwriting major at Marymount Manhattan. Yes, I do a lot of writing - in fact, I’m almost finished with the play I’ve spent all year writing! But why did I decide to pursue theatrical writing as my major in college instead of a performing degree? It’s really all thanks to one show, and one specific person in that show, who inspired me to follow my unorthodox dramatist dreams. That show? Something Rotten!, of course. And the person? None other than Nigel Bottom himself, Mr. John Cariani.

Alongside his acting roles, which include deadbeat dad Itzik in The Band’s Visit and lovesick tailor Motel Kamzoil in Fiddler on the Roof, John has been the most produced playwright in American high schools for nearly a decade now. It’s all thanks to his timeless and heartwarming debut play Almost, Maine. He’s also the writer of Love/sick, a dark companion to Almost, Maine; Last Gas, another play set in Maine about missed connections and awkward relationships; and a forthcoming piece about the dark side of suburban families, Cul-de-sac. I actually had the privilege to see this last play at Cape Cod Theatre Project a summer ago, and was completely delighted to see his latest work in progress. (No spoilers since it’s not officially finished yet, but it is the darkest thing he has ever written, and he usually tends to be a very sentimental guy.)

Ever since the first preview of Something Rotten! saved my life (the story of which you can read in my article “Spongebob: A Testimonial”), I found a connection to Nigel Bottom – the dorky, awkward, anxious younger Bottom brother who cared more about writing plays that spoke his truth than writing plays that make a lot of money. An anxious Shakespeare nerd who just wants to write from the soul? How wonderfully relatable. I just knew I had to get to know the man behind the Bottom. As I kept returning to Rotten! and stagedooring after every show, I started to talk to John more and more, and started developing a real interest in writing plays in the process. By the time I started taking my first playwriting class as a requirement at my old college, I immediately went to John for advice on how to approach this new form of writing I had never attempted before. Near the end of the semester, I had the bright idea to share my first script with him, and delivered it in an envelope to the St. James stage door with a note containing my email and letting him know any feedback would be greatly appreciated. A few months passed, I left my old college to take a gap year, and I totally forgot I sent him my play, until one summer day he emailed me back with lovely feedback! During the gap year, I decided I wanted to go to college for playwriting, and I got to tell him at The Band’s Visit stage door at the Atlantic. He’s been supportive of my major decision ever since.

Since my first semester as a dedicated playwriting major at Marymount, we’ve had frequent meet ups – tacos are usually involved - and he’s given me consistent feedback and advice on my work. If you’ve ever met him at a Broadway stagedoor, he’s usually very sweet and awkward. That’s him in real life, too. He’s also wickedly funny, and ridiculously wise. We also have so many of the same opinions on the state of bookwriting in modern musical theatre it’s kind of wild. He’s basically my big brother. He’s a wonderful mentor and an invaluable friend. Since John left The Band’s Visit at the beginning of the month, he’s been off doing more playwriting work on Cul-de-Sac as well as a novelization of Almost, Maine. He deserves a rest from performing and time to work on his craft. I can’t wait to see what my brilliant buddy does next.

(Photo by Matthew Murphy.)