james parenti

‘May Violets Spring’ Gives Ophelia Her Groove Back

In an alternate universe, Ophelia hatches the plot to spot Claudius’s guilt through a performance of “The Murder of Gonzago.” She and Hamlet are picnicking together, as lovers are wont to do, and when she proposing making slight changes to the text in order to highlight the king’s crime, Hamlet hesitates, saying, “But to violate a sacrosanct text with the mutterings of an amateur?” Ophelia responds, “Could you not?”

In this self-reflective moment, Ophelia is essentially standing in for this inaugural production of Dare Lab which re-writes Hamlet to give Ophelia’s voice greater central agency. James Parenti, who plays Hamlet (and who gave us a fantastic interview two weeks ago), adapted the canonical text, maintaining much of the original text but also writing some of his own where the women of Hamlet were otherwise silenced.

The fact that Ophelia feels so comfortable rewriting “Gonzago” is only just a hint of the type of new power Ophelia (a riveting Gwenevere Sisco) takes on in May Violets Spring. Her motives and desires are given their due. Here, she, Horatio, and Hamlet make up a trio of friends, and within the friendship she is a key player. She and Hamlet have plans of leaving Denmark and making a new life together, and his scheme to play crazy throws their plans into limbo. Ophelia speaks some of the play’s most memorable lines, (“what a piece of work is man,” parts of “to be or not to be”) and dialogue that belonged to other characters (like Hamlet’s confrontation with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern) are placed in new context as part of her own plight. Within her family dynamic, she is a pawn in the political games of her father Polonius (Michael Griffin), who tries to stay on the new king’s good side. Soon enough, she becomes a victim to Hamlet’s games as well and is forced to hatch her own plans to ensure her survival.


An economic hour and forty-five minutes gives the company enough time to cover the basic plot points and expand the world of the original play. Horatio (Monique St. Cyr) is given more significance (and a gender change) and Gertrude (Sarah Eismann) is allowed to meddle in her husband’s affairs with a heavy hand. But these changes are far more than just a behind-the-scenes expose at what really happened in Hamlet. In fact, Violets takes great liberty with the original, cutting and changing parts that do not serve the purpose of giving Ophelia new agency. In this new Ophelia, we find a fully-realized woman, an actor who takes her scripted fate into her own hands. What better way to celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday weekend (because I’m sure Billy Shakes would have partied all week long)!

Catch May Violets Spring at Shetler Studios, playing through May 3rd. Tickets here!


LMezz Interviews: Actor/Playwright James Parenti

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.

James Parenti


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”

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