James Parenti’s exciting new play May Violets Spring, produced by Dare Lab, begins its run at Shetler Studios on April 16. Violets is a reworking of Hamlet as seen from the point of view of Ophelia. It combines pieces of the original Shakespearean text with other source texts and new material written by Parenti in order to give Ophelia voice a greater power in the narrative.
I (Sara) find the process of adapting source material into new works, and I jumped at the chance to interview Parenti about his piece. We talked about his journey from actor to playwright and mind-melded on what it’s like to adapt Shakespeare, how to give voice to characters, and how much we both love/hate James Franco.
LMezz: So tell us a little more about May Violets Spring?
James Parenti: It’s an adaptation of Hamlet I didn’t set out to make an adaptation. I just set out to tweak the story a hair because I was in a position to [act] in a production of Hamlet. Obviously I said, yes! It’s an actor’s dream. But I’ve also always been keenly aware of people’s voices being under-represented in theater and in general so when I was going through it, just doing pre-work as an actor, I found that there are these two amazing female characters, Ophelia and Gertrude, who have these great scenes but were grossly under-represented. So I thought it would be really cool and tell a potentially slightly stronger story if, let’s say Ophelia is onstage during the soliloquies, if instead of it being Hamlet talking to the audience, Hamlet is talking to his best friend or girlfriend. And then she could answer, like she can share this line, and it can be a conversation instead of a tirade. Then, when I brought that to my director at the time, she was like, ‘this is such a deep rabbit hole and there’s so much more to unpack there. That’s a new piece, it’s not just a new production. You can explore that.’ So, it started out with them sharing the soliloquies and then I started bringing in text from other plays, like Cymbeline and Twelfth Night. And then I got to this point where Shakespeare kind of ended and I had to write my own text to fill in the gaps. I’ve always been interested in words but I had never considered myself a playwright. It was kind of something that happened of necessity. When the [original Shakespearean text] ended, I had to build something new and then that gained its own momentum and snowballed and I realized that Ophelia is actually the protagonist of this new story. So I had to cut out all the other stuff that we don’t need, so there’s a lot less Hamlet, there’s a lot less of the political intrigue and more of the domestic story. So it’s Hamlet from Ophelia’s point of view. For the most part, it follows the canon events unless you specifically see something otherwise happening. Continue reading “LMezz Interviews: Actor/Playwright James Parenti”