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EXCLUSIVE: James Parenti Re-Imagines Ophelia's Fate in 'May Violets Spring,' a New Play Based on Shakespeare's 'Hamlet'

By Louise Burton l.burton@classicalite.com on Apr 22, 2014 12:45 AM EDT

Actor James Parenti can pinpoint the moment when he got the idea for a verse play that became May Violets Spring: A New Story for a New Ophelia, currently playing at The Bridge Theatre in New York through April 27.

Parenti was preparing to play the title role of Hamlet in a production by The Other Mirror Theatre in 2011, and he was frustrated by Ophelia's limited place in the story.

"In Hamlet, Ophelia is a beautifully realized character who isn't given any control of her own story--or rather, her own life," Parenti said. "The men in her life--her father, her brother, Hamlet--all seem to make her choices for her."

Ophelia's experience of being controlled by the men in her life is not unusual for the male-dominated society of Shakespeare's time. But for our own time, the character of Ophelia seems somehow lacking in dimension.

 "It frustrated me that she had no control over the events in her life, and that the audience gets no window into her inner life," Parenti explained. "Hamlet has his seven soliloquies; Ophelia only has her handful of scenes."

Dreaming of a production of Hamlet that gave Ophelia a voice, Parenti began writing a new play focusing on Ophelia and a possible journey for her as a protagonist through the canon events of Hamlet. He adapted material from Hamlet for the new verse play, but also wrote his own verse and included fragments of many of the Bard of Avon's other plays and sonnets.

May Violets Spring is produced by Dare Lab and directed by Reesa Graham, the resident and literary director of the all-female Manhattan Shakespeare Project. The cast features Gwenevere Sisco as Ophelia and Parenti as Hamlet. Other cast members include Michael Griffin, Mat Leonard, Monique Yvonne St. Cyr, Sarah Eismann and David Bodenschatz.

Ophelia is onstage for nearly all of the play's 100-minute run time. The other characters swirl around her, leaving her alone with the audience to comment on her life, her impending motherhood, and her state in the world. "We see her make choices that motivate the story, and ultimately she becomes her own playwright and decides where and when her story will end," Parenti said.

But what would Ophelia say, if given a voice? According to Parenti, "Ultimately, she refuses to let anyone in her life decide who she is, or what her value is. She decides that her life is worth more than just the titles sister, daughter, lover, mother.  When the Queen learns of her pregnancy (a nuance hinted at in the flower symbolism of the original Hamlet) she tells her to kill herself and the unborn child. Rather than continuing her pattern of blind obedience, she takes the opportunity to fake her own death and flee Denmark completely, thus choosing a life above and beyond the world created by the men."

If you're interested in watching Ophelia break free from the bonds that held her back in Hamlet, the production of May Violets Spring continues this week from April 23-27. Ticket information is available at brownpapertickets.com.

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TagsJames Parenti, May Violets Spring, Shakespeare, Hamlet, Ophelia, The Bridge Theatre, Dare Lab, Reesa Graham, Gwenevere Sisco

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