The credits for “Mr. Parent” read: by Melinda Lopez, with Maurice Emmanuel Parent, and conceived with and directed by Megan Sandberg-Zakian. But the one-man show, which has its world premiere at the Lyric Stage Company Jan. 13-Feb. 6 and is based on Parent’s experiences as a teacher in the Boston Public School system while working as an actor, emerged from a true collaboration among the trio of creators.
“When Megan approached me about writing a play about my time as a teacher, I said, ‘I’m not a playwright,’” says Parent, during a rehearsal break. “But I loved to tell stories about my kids.”
Parent, who moved to Boston in 2006 to play Coalhouse Walker Jr. in the New Repertory Theatre’s production of “Ragtime,” took a job as a teacher as a practical way to support his acting. He worked in the classroom for nearly five years while spending nights and weekends in the productions of smaller theater companies around town.
“I finally decided to quit when I was cast in two Huntington Theatre Company productions [which schedule rehearsals during weekdays],” says Parent, a two-time Elliot Norton Award winner who has appeared in three dozen Boston shows over the years. “But during rehearsal breaks for ‘Skeleton Crew,’ I kept telling stories about my kids, who I loved.”
Sandberg-Zakian, who directed that 2018 production of “Skeleton Crew,” shared a Google doc with him at the end of the show’s run with a list of some of Parent’s most memorable characters and stories.
“Maurice has a natural storytelling rhythm,” says Sandberg-Zakian. “He always communicates a sense of delight and discovery around what his students teach him.”
When Sandberg-Zakian spoke to Lopez (”Becoming Cuba,” “Mala,” “Sonia Flew”), they both decided the idea had potential.
“The dramatic action is the reason the performer is telling the story,” says Sandberg-Zakian. “How has going through the experience of being a teacher and an actor changed who Maurice is as a human.”
The story, she says, grew out of Parent’s love for students trying to learn in an often-dysfunctional education system, his realization that his path lay elsewhere, and his effort to find the place where he fit in.
“The story reflects chapters in five years of my real life,” says Parent. “The hope is that everyone will recognize those good days, and other days when you are scared, functioning, but not happy.”
Both Parent and Sandberg-Zakian say that while there was always overlap in responsibilities, each contributed their unique talents to the piece.
“It’s so interesting to go through the experience of creating a one-man show when the three of us are collaborators,” Parent says. “Megan and Melinda see things in different ways. Melinda finds the through line of where I’m going after two or three stories, and her transitions clock changes in my trajectory as a teacher. Megan became my scene partner, and my audience, making sure the stories felt real. At this point, I rely on them and focus on being the actor.”
Sandberg-Zakian says her role is to be the surrogate audience. At the same time, she says, she surrounded herself with a talented production team — Cristina Tedesco, scenic design; Karen Perlow, lighting; Arshan Gailus, sound; and Yao Chen, costumes — with yet another perspective.
“We have an image of the urban school system in our minds,” says Sandberg-Zakian, “as well as our idea of what an actor is; and even what theater is. So much of the play is about Maurice having to wear multiple hats and making decisions that are right for him. Weighing options is what we all do.”
Shakespeare series at Coolidge Corner
Commonwealth Shakespeare Company and Coolidge Corner Theatre are teaming up for “Shakespeare Reimagined,” three film screenings followed by a Q&A with experts in theater and film. The series opens Jan. 13 with a screening at the Coolidge of “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” starring Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand, directed by Joel Coen.
Panelists in the post-screening Q&A include film critic Sean Burns, journalist and novelist Anita Diamant, and Harvey Young, dean of Boston University’s College of Fine Arts. CSC founding artistic director Steve Maler will moderate the discussion, which will last 30-40 minutes. Admission is $15 ($12.50 for Coolidge Corner members or CSC patrons using the code CSC2022). Tickets are available at the door or online at coolidge.org.
Two more “Shakespeare Reimagined” dates are planned in March and May, but details have not been announced yet.
Look up at all the Boston actors!
The star-studded film “Don’t Look Up” is getting lots of critical reaction, positive and negative. Adam McKay’s satire was filmed in and around the city with a cast that includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, and Jennifer Lawrence. But for Boston theatergoers, the thrill of the film comes in seeing so many local favorites. While many have brief speaking roles — Annette Miller steals her brief newsroom scene; Lewis D. Wheeler is a frustrated space launch team leader; Bill Mootos is an oh-so-direct attorney; and Dorothy Dwyer gets a hilarious turn as a tough old Boston broad — you can also glimpse Allyn Burrows, Aimee Doherty, Lonnie Farmer, Steve Gagliastro, Georgia Lyman, Dee Nelson, Celeste Oliva, Ed Peed, and Richard Snee. There may have been more, who went by too quickly or were uncredited, but at a time when performing jobs are few and far between, it was heartening to see the local theater community so well represented.
‘People, Places & Things’ delayed
In response to the Omicron surge of the COVID virus, SpeakEasy Stage Company has delayed the run of “People, Places & Things.” The show, originally scheduled for Jan. 7-Feb. 5, will now run Feb. 11-March 5. The theater said it would contact ticketholders and subscribers to reschedule.
Presented by the Lyric Stage Company of Boston, Jan. 13-Feb. 6. Tickets: $10-$75. 617-585-5678, lyricstage.com
Terry Byrne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.