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Sunday, April 29, 2012

On the Ground Floor with...Michael S. Parsons

Michael S. Parsons
On April 29-May 3, work by this year’s MFA class – MJ Halberstadt (May 1), Michael S. Parsons (May 3), Rick Park (April 29), and Jaclyn Villano (May 2) – will be featured in our annual Ground Floor New Play Series, along with BPT Visiting Professor Richard Schotter’s The Sussman Variations (April 30). We celebrate these exciting writers on the blog by offering an inside look at them and their plays!

All five readings are free and begin at 7 p.m. – reserve your seat and get additional information.

KAM: Tell us a little about Sumner Falls.

MSP: At its heart, Sumner Falls is about a family in crisis. Melanie Sumner is a Deputy Sheriff in a small Cape Cod town that bears the family name. Her husband has given up his dreams, her father-in-law is proud yet damaged, and an uncle, a convicted murderer, returns from prison to shake up the family tree and bring the past to light. And then the weird stuff starts happening.

KAM: What makes you passionate about this idea?

MSP: I like the idea of something amazing happening when you least expect it, and then watching how these people try to deal with it. That happens in Sumner. Mel, in particular, has become one of my favorite characters. She’s trying to be everything to everyone, but in the end, she has some sharp choices to make about her life, her husband’s, and her own dreams as she searches out some cosmic truths.    

KAM: Does Sumner Falls align with your original vision for the work, or did it take shape as you went along?

MSP: This play was radically different when I started out. I had this sprawling, big, epic play in mind, with all sorts of elements involved -- direct address, actors stepping in and out of character, direct contradictions between the text and the actions on stage, lots of monologues...mass hysteria, really. Working with Ronan Noone, I realized there was a lot of surface clutter mucking up the story, and the story was the thing. Whose play was it? What were the important elements, and what can I put in my back pocket for some future work? Continuing the process with Melinda Lopez this spring, the play boiled down to a story about a small-town New England deputy trying to hold her family together in the face of some pretty incredible happenings.

KAM: How would you describe your writing to people who are unfamiliar with your work?

MSP: I’m very much a structuralist -- you won’t see me come up with Hamletmachine II: The Sequel anytime soon. However, I do love a little touch of surrealism, when added into a framework that’s comparatively traditional -- it can bring out some good stuff. And I like to juggle a lot of different threads at once, until they come together -- or get torn apart -- at the end.

My biggest influences in playwriting have probably been Arthur Miller, Steven Dietz, and Conor McPherson -- my personal idol. The Seafarer is probably my favorite play. I love how McPherson’s able to just wind the story out and draw his audience in bit by bit until he’s really hooked them. I’ve also taken in a lot of Harold Pinter and a little bit of Sam Shepard recently, and that’s starting to show. I’m pretty certain there’s a nod or two in their direction in this play. 

A friend once described my work as generally Aristotelian in structure, “with a sense of exploration beyond traditional structures.” And now I owe Tom Hayes a quarter.  

KAM: What is the least likely thing you've gained inspiration from?

MSP: A 1977 El Camino and a Yahtzee brothel run out of a grandmother’s house have combined in my head to become cornerstones of the perfect play. Too bad I can’t figure out how to write it yet. I’m sure Arthur Miller would be proud, however. Or, he’ll roll over in his grave and spin his way to China. 

KAM: What’s next for you?

MSP: May’s a big month. The day after the reading of Sumner Falls, I’ve got a reading of my play Fire Dance at the Cherry Lane Theatre in NYC. I have a ten-minute play in the Boston Theatre Marathon, staged on the 20th. It’s titled Deja Nous. Finally, in October, I’m getting married to my fiancée, fellow BPT playwright Jaclyn Villano, or, as I like to phrase it, “the highlight of my life”. At last, our talking teddy bears will no longer be out of wedlock. (Check out her play reading on May 2nd -- it’s going to be excellent!)

From a writing standpoint, I’m working on a play that is probably a post-9/11 play (without being about 9/11) called Outer Banks. And I’m rebuilding an earlier play, Homeland, by stripping out two of the five characters and centering it in one location -- in this case, the one-bedroom apartment of an agoraphobic former Marine. Those are keeping me plenty busy in the near future.

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