Maurice Emmanuel Parent talks reinventing Marlowe
The ever-reliable Actors’ Shakespeare Project continues its season with Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II, a controversial and rarely seen work that was banned for several hundred years.
Central to Edward’s tumultuous and tragic reign is that he is in love with another man. You can imagine how well that goes over. According to director David R. Gammons, “Edward II was kept off the stage for more than 200 years, in large part because of the cultural ambivalence of its social matter and the spectre of male sexuality as a threat to the civilized order of society and power. It depicts a gay relationship in the 14th century, written in the 16th century, in a way that most stories and lives were not openly portrayed until the late 20th century.”
The remarkable Maurice Emmanuel Parent stars as the title role, and here he talks about the power of uncomfortable theater, the timeliness of Marlowe’s work, and whether Edward II is the sexiest show of the year.
When I spoke with you briefly about Edward II prior to rehearsals beginning, you spoke about how edgy and sexy this production was going to be. Now that you’re about to open, can you elaborate on that?
Totally. I still feel that way. It really gets to some of the core themes in a really bold, new, edgy way with the music and the lighting. There’s some movement elements of it that are kind of interspersed throughout, so we’ll see how the audience responds to that. Post-Scottsboro Boys, I was thinking it’s cool that I’m in these two very different shows, but then I thought about how they might be similar. A big thing we talked about during Scottsboro is how [writers] Kander and Ebb purposefully do things that make the audience uncomfortable. They want the audience to think, “Why am I uncomfortable? Why does this make me uncomfortable?”
That question and the subsequent thoughts help inform how people react to art, and that’s a lot of this. This play was banned for 300 years because of the direct homosexuality. In the way that we’re doing it, it is bold and edgy and kind of racy. If anyone does feel uncomfortable just to have that hot second of “Why? Why are two men’s bodies pressed up against each other making me uncomfortable?” And the subsequent answer is the jumping off point for dialogue or even change.
Why do you think this is a good time to tell this story?
I hate to keep getting so political, but I guess we can’t really deny it. I was reading some article right after election. This is not going to be a direct quote, but basically the idea was that as theater makers and artists in general, we all have to be aware of what the audience is going to be bringing into these spaces from the world. Anything we do, even if it’s not meant to be overtly political, can be seen as political. The audiences coming in, hopefully, will make some connections with what’s going on in society. Why are we still questioning the validity of same-sex love? So I think that’s what David is pulling from, drawing from the idea that the gay movement had just started and its feet were knocked out from under it by this disease, so the idea that just living your life could, at that time, mean death.
At this time, we have a vice-president who supposedly believes that homosexuals should be converted and our director of housing and urban development, Ben Carson, has pretty much no tolerance for trans conversations and thinks they need mental help. So the fact is that we, in 2017, are still having some of these conversations. The awesome thing about it, too, is the language. It’s not just that Edward is gay or in love with a man—the other thing is that he loves the aesthetics and beauty. He loves festivals and poetry and music and dance. Wouldn’t it be nice if our leaders valued that? We have a president who says he wants to get rid of the NEA.
In terms of starting these conversations, do you think that the people who would benefit most from seeing this type of theater are actually attending? I always wonder how many people in a given audience are being exposed to something new.
That’s a good question. It’s an amazing, valid point and super on the money. All of us, even those of us that are super liberally open minded, there are still ways I can grow and there are still things that I need to check myself on. As artists, all we can do is make the art, and we’re fortunate to live in a town where we can make it. Hopefully someone might bring a cousin or a friend who maybe is not as open minded or forward thinking and change their perspective. Or, we hope that people might. You never know who does show up. If we affect one life, that’s enough.
I like that, that it’s still necessary to check ourselves every once in awhile. I’m so excited to see it.
I’m excited to be a part of it. I can’t even describe it sometimes. It’s so many different things. Everybody’s hot in this play. I’m not bragging about myself, but it’s a good-looking cast and they’re all talented.
Is it the sexiest show of the year, is that what we should call it?
It just might be!
EDWARD II. RUNS THROUGH 3.19 AT ACTORS’ SHAKESPEARE PROJECT, 442 BUNKER HILL ST., CHARLESTOWN. WWW.ACTORSSHAKESPEAREPROJECT.ORG.