In Winter 2015, Girl Just Died produced a limited engagement of POPTART! It ran a thrilling four nights from December 2nd through December 5th at TADA! Theatre with Gwenevere Sisco directing.
Krystle Phelps set out on the journey of writing POPTART! to create a character lacking any traditional saving grace. A brutally ambitious woman who isn’t secretly soft. An artist who isn’t talented beyond measure. A shitty daughter, friend, lover—you name the role and she’s sure to suck at it. She wanted to write about a pop star. What you see is what you get, but what you see in POPTART! is in bright, neon, 3D. Monique is no one’s sidekick, self-insert, or villain. She just is. And that’s enough.
While not a traditional musical, the play featured new music by James Parenti, Krystle Phelps, and Trish Phelps.
Original cast included: Monique St. Cyr (Monique Jackson), James Parenti (James Pearce), Allison Strickland (Anna Martin).
“There's always something rather thrilling about a real-time play with an approaching deadline. As Monique stalks about her dressing room, primping, drinking, changing clothes, writing "Bitch" on her mirror with lipstick, we know she has a performance (to a pre-recorded "live track") at an unspecified awards show only moments away. This is borrowed time: a chemistry meet with a new collaborator, dodged calls from her mother slash former manager, and a showdown between a diva and her only friend. Time seems to both expand and contract around moments - music plays and everything holds still ... the chemistry between the players here is at its best when they're playing a song. Whether it's Monique and James (played by, look at that, Monique St. Cyr and James Parenti) composing a song together, or James trying to seduce some intel out of Anna (played by, look at that, Allison Strickland) with an impromptu song about thread, there's a healthy mixture of sparks and sweetness when this uniting thing, this love of music and creation, enters the equation. St. Cyr and Parenti have lovely voices, and it's a pleasure to hear them blend. All three actors bring a rich mix of strength and vulnerability ... The original songs, by the way, are gorgeous and they should release a CD. Just saying. I'd buy it."
“POPTART! is a new play by Krystle Phelps that takes a searing look at a pop star whose life unravels the night leading up to an important concert. Directed by Gwenevere Sisco, this production focuses on a diva with a major chip on her shoulder, her long-suffering personal assistant, and a washed up rock star looking for a paycheck. While not a traditional musical, the artists featured in the story perform live original music by James Parenti, Krystle Phelps, and Trish Phelps. Exploring themes of gender, race, and all things celebrity, POPTART! delves into the need to be truly heard ... even if you have nothing to say."
All photos by Trish Phelps
may violets spring (2014)
In Spring 2014, James and Krystle produced May Violets Spring with Reesa Graham (who also directed) and Dare Lab, running April 16th through April 27th at The Bridge Theatre in Shetler Studios. By popular demand, the show then extended an extra week at new home Joria Productions Theatre with the extra assistance of Turn to Flesh Productions.
While preparing to play the title role in Shakespeare's Hamlet in 2011, James became frustrated by Ophelia's limited place in the story. Dreaming of a production of Hamlet that gave Ophelia a voice, over the next three years he adapted the material himself. The result is a love letter to classical heroines slighted by the narratives of our past and too often in productions of the present.
Original cast included: Gwenevere Sisco (Ophelia), James Parenti (Hamlet), Monique St. Cyr (Horatio), Mat Leonard (Laertes), Michael Griffin (Polonius), David Bodenschatz (Claudius), and Sarah Eismann (Gertrude).
“6. May Violets Spring (Dare Lab/The Bridge). This show, which I reviewed here, was a poetic delight and a beautiful surprise. Playwright and actor James Parenti deconstructed (and then reconstructed) Hamlet, refiguring the narrative to put Ophelia front and center. In doing so, he borrowed liberally from other Shakespeare texts (and added some of his own) to further flesh out Ophelia and Horatio and their relationships to Hamlet, as well as provided a sort of RosencrantzundGuildensternian (if we were German, this would totally be a word) behind-the-scenes look at the narrative we all know so well. It was simply directed by Reesa Graham and beautifully acted by Gwenevere Sisco, James Parenti, and Monique St. Cyr.
“This new verse play re-imagines Ophelia's fate, giving the Shakespearean heroine a voice and control over her own destiny. After a successful run at the Bridge Theatre, the play is moving to Joria Productions Theatre in New York for four additional performances, April 30 through May 3 …”
“In this new Ophelia, we find a fully-realized woman, an actor who takes her scripted fate into her own hands. What better way to celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday weekend (because I’m sure Billy Shakes would have partied all week long)!”
“…with 400 years of history, we should do better. We owe it to these roles, to these women, to theater audiences, to our own psyches to let these people have their voices.”
“Parenti has taken liberties aplenty with his adaptation - not just supplementing Shakespeare's text with his own ... or doling out dialogue from other characters to Ophelia in scenes where she was formerly silent or absent. He's also borrowed, with a delicate hand, snatches of dialogue, here and there, from the entire Shakespeare canon. Rather than feel like a tiresome wink at the audience, however, these scraps of familiarity help guide us on our newly-lit journey down a old trodden path. So when Ophelia, hearing that Hamlet has slain her father, asks, 'Can Heaven be so envious?' we feel, not just Ophelia's grief, but the echo of Juliet's as well.”
“In his new verse play May Violets Spring James Parenti cleverly rewrites Hamlet to make Ophelia a central and more active character. He takes elements of what is occasionally subtext which can be inferred in Hamlet, and boldly makes it text, through original verse, shifting of lines to other characters, and occasional interpolations of sonnets and repurposed sections from other plays from the Shakespearean oeuvre. But purists beware, This is not a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, 'what you didn't see behind the scenes' type play that keeps strictly within the events of Hamlet; this is a radical reimagining of the story, placing Ophelia front and center … Highly recommended.”
“The result is a love letter to classical heroines slighted by the narratives of our past and too often in productions of the present … this production focuses on Ophelia and her journey as a protagonist through the canon events of Hamlet - asking whether a tragic end is the only possible outcome for the marginalized.”
All photos by Trish Phelps.