Softness, Compliance, Forgiveness, Grace: The Lyric presents “Mr. Parent”

Maurice Emmanuel Parent in “Mr. Parent.” Photo by Mark S Howard.

Presented by Lyric Stage Company of Boston
Written by Melinda Lopez
Directed by Megan Sandberg-Zakian
Public education consultant – Neema Avashia
Original music and sound design by Arshan Gailus 
Featuring Maurice Emmanuel Parent

January 13 – February 6, 2022
14 Claredon St, 2nd Floor
Boston, MA 
The Lyric on Facebook
Homework for Audiences

Critique by Kitty Drexel

BOSTON — Theatreworks Hartford streamed a version of Mr. Parent in March 2021. The Lyric’s live, in-person production is a different beast from TheatreWorks Hartford. While both versions tell the same story, the current production of Mr. Parent at The Lyric evolved for the stage. 

Maurice Emmanuel Parent is compassionate, generous, kind, and funny as Hell in Mr. Parent. The play’s story begins in New York City. Parent is a wide-eyed theatre professional seeking his fortune on Broadway and beyond when his agent sends him to Boston to audition for Angels in America. He gets the gig.

A miserable union salary and 2006 Boston rent prices force Parent to find a second job. He becomes a cluster substitute teacher in a Boston public school. His cluster-job was a clusterfuck of joys and frustrations. 

Parent taught theatre arts to kids for five years. Beginning in 2011, Boston’s underfunded and underserved kids learn from Parent that there’s more to life than test scores and disappointment. There’s art. 

He, writer Melinda Lopez and director Megan Sandberg-Zakian use Parent’s broad range of storytelling talents to show us his life. We see him do impressions of his students and friends, act out incorrect stage combat practices (and the bodily consequences of those practices), and sweetly reenact children’s choreography. We hear about past gigs, overtired misadventures, and ex-boyfriend Brad. (Who clearly didn’t deserve Maurice). 

Sandberg-Zakian and Parent worked as an ensemble with the designers to create a rich world for Parent to play in. Mr. Parent has a minimalistic set. Parent moves chairs across the stage to indicate different locations. The four, sturdy elementary school-style chairs are the bones for each new setting. Parent describes the scene. We use our imaginations to fill in the details.

Changes to Parent’s costume or classroom indicated a seismic shift in the story. Adding a travel mug to the set was equivalent to adding a new emotional wall in Parent’s demeanor. His donning of a sweater graduated Parent from teacher friend to paternal overlord. 

Karen Perlow’s lighting design switched between cool and warm tones to indicate which environment Parent was navigating. Warm yellows meant Parent was about to tell a school story. Cool, bright lights meant Parent was sharing an anecdote from his private life. A fierce red meant Parent was on stage or in rehearsal. The lighting often switched subtly just like the boundary shifts between Parent’s many selves. 

Projections and a whiteboard inform us of MA’s inequities. Photo by Mark S Howard.

Speaking of selves, Parent gives us a glimpse into the private lives of Boston’s professional artist community. It is bleak. He describes early mornings, late nights, and all-day Saturday and Sunday rehearsals. All at the shockingly dismal 2011 pay rate of under $300 a week. That’s for a union gig. 

It’s 2022, the AEA rate is still an unlivable wage. Actor’s Equity and other unions provide a baseline payment guide for what an artist should earn. Theatres should expect to pay all of their artists more than the base. Companies that can’t afford to pay their actors a living wage can’t afford to make theatre. 

As Parent teaches us about his imaginative, tenaciously smart, and smart-assed students equally as hungry for creative outlets as they are for regular meals, he educates us on the systemic racial biases and barriers inflicted on Boston students to this day.

Parent’s work in the Boston public school ended in 2016, but Boston’s kids are still under-served by the system that educates them: classes are too large; teachers are always over-extended; no one gets paid enough. Attendees will leave performances in awe of Parent’s talent and wondering what they can do to help. The Lyric has you covered! 

Parent and the Lyric worked with Public Education Consultant Neema Avashia to create Homework aka dramaturgical resources for audiences to continue their work after attending the show. The resources are HERE

The podcasts can be listened to at the gym or during a commute. They can be found at The New York Times or on Spotify, with or without commercials. 

Articles can be read on a commute or before bed. Some of the links go to fancy publications with a paywall after two free articles. Others go to free sites. 

Books can be read ten minutes at a time. They can be borrowed from the library or requested via the Libby library app. All of these resources can be consumed in any order, at any time.

It is of vital importance that attendees remember that the school and theatre conditions Maurice Emmanual Parent discusses in Mr. Parent aren’t fiction. The names are changed but the stories are real. 

One resource not listed by the Lyric is the Vote. If school reform is important to you, contact your local politicians and demand that schools be given the resources they deserve. Come the next election, vote for the change we deserve.

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