Maurice Emmanuel Parent in The Lyric Stage Company of Boston's production of 'Mr. Parent' Source: Mark S. Howard

Review: 'Mr. Parent' a Lesson in the Joys and Terrors of Teaching

Kilian Melloy READ TIME: 4 MIN.

Maurice Emmanuel Parent's solo show "Mr. Parent" – written in collaboration with Melinda Lopez, produced by the Lyric Stage Company of Boston, and available to stream through Feb. 20 – takes us into the wonders, terrors, and heartbreak of the public school system.

Parent explains how became part of the Boston theater scene and why he became a school teacher. Pursuing his career in New York but interested in trying for a part in a production of "Angels in America," he was initially skeptical about temporarily relocating to Boston in order to be in the show –�"Boston? They're racist up there!" – and the discovery that he would be earning less than $300 per week hardly helped.

But then Parent started getting more roles, and eventually he decided to stay in Boston rather than return to NYC. The problem: He was still going to be earning less than $300 a week, and that's when he landed a part.

Needing money, the actor took a job as a teacher: "Good money, steady work, health insurance," is how he summarizes the reason for the day job. But the work was a challenge, especially at first. There was, Parent relates, "no manual. It was sink or swim!"

Teaching theater to high schoolers in a well-financed school probably sounds like a dream job. That wasn't, however, the job Parent had. He was teaching kids between the ages of three and eleven in an under-resourced, underperforming school, marveling at their tough attitudes and gutter language, worrying about the safety of the neighborhoods they lived in, and trying to cut them some slack where it seemed necessary, given that 86% of his students were living in poverty and the food they were served during school hours might well be the only food they would eat that day.

If the job was a mixture of mission and necessity, the kids were a blend of sweetness and terror. As he learned the ropes, Parent was "Mr. Maurice" to his students, which included kids who misbehaved, kids who could be physically threatening, kids who proved to be talented artists, and kids who may or may not have been "family" – an '80s code word for LGBTQ+ that, when it cropped up in his classroom, was easy to overlook in the moment. Parent wonders about that word, and the boy who used it in a way that seemed, at the time, inappropriate. Was the kid trying to come out? Was he having problems? Did he need help? (More overtly, there was at least one tall, tough girl who played basketball and declared herself to be "bi," with such aggressive confidence that no one dared give her a hard time about it.)

By then, however, "Mr. Maurice:" had become "Mr. Parent" – a much stricter presence in the classroom, thanks to a combination of experience and exhaustion. Parent relates his experiences as a teacher to different points in his theater career, and if you've been attending plays in Boston over the last decade you'll orient yourself at once to his timeline with mention of productions he's been in – "Troilus," "Bootycandy," "The Mountaintop," "A Raisin in the Sun." It's a treat to see Parent re-enact scenes from some of these works, and then to tie them into the narrative of his day job and his life, but it's also easy to see how burning the candle so brightly at both ends could only lead to burning out.

Parent's two career paths swerve into one another in funny, unexpected ways, but ultimately he had only one true vocation... the one he pursued, though he's left wondering about his choices: "How much of my life have I spent making something that won't last?" he muses, haunted by having left a career teaching kids "who looked like me."

Parent may have taken his acting skills into the classroom with him in order to cope, but he's also been able to add his teaching skills to this show, giving us a pop quiz on education and a brief documentary – almost a performative film strip – on the still-shocking history of busing minority students in Boston in the name of educational equality, and the long-term consequences of well-intentioned attempt at leveling the educational playing field.

Centered around anecdotes from his teaching days as it may be, the show is hardly stuffy. We're not watching a lecture so much as a process of inner reconciliation, as well as the processing of deeply meaningful (perhaps even traumatic) experiences. There's a welcome informality about the show, such that it's sometimes hard to tell which moments are part of the play per se, and which depart, spontaneously, from the script. Parent can't remember the name of a particular student; "It'll come to me," he says, though it never does. He prepares to serve up a raft of facts and figures, but then banishes the stage hand, together with a blackboard-sized pad of paper on which stats are written out, in order to stick to "the personal" instead of focusing on numbers. Seemingly sidetracked by an off-the-cuff anecdote about a heart-rending tragedy, he pauses – "Where was I?" –�before rejoining the flow and rhythm of the show. His performance is emotional, immediate, and authentic.

The design elements support this style, from Cristina Todesco's minimalist scenic design – a sketch of a classroom, porous and evocative rather than hard-walled and institutional – to Yao Chen's costuming, Karen Perlow's lighting, the sound design and music by Arshan Gailus, and Megan Sandberg-Zakian's direction.

The play's streaming presentation is equally low-key: Well-planned, cinematic in an unobtrusive way, but more considered than simply planting a camera and filming a performance.

"Mr. Parent" has some poignant lessons in store, and some hard ones, too; Mr. Maurice delivers those lessons with honesty, humor, and compassion.

"Mr. Parent" streams through Feb. 20. For more information and tickets, go to

by Kilian Melloy , EDGE Staff Reporter

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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