Thursday, February 23, 2017

Interview with a Playwright: Novid Parsi

We caught up with playwright NOVID PARSI to ask some questions about his latest play, Our Mother's Meal
It's the third play in our Rough Readings Series, which is always PAY WHAT YOU CAN!
Eventbrite - Playwrights Foundation ROUGH READINGS Series

Your play explores intersecting topics of the immigrant narrative, assimilation between different generations, and patriarchy. Can you tell me about what drew you to these topics and the significance of that narrative?

I wanted to explore our narrative of American immigrant success. The standard storyline goes: Immigrants move to the States for a better life for themselves and their children. But as those children successfully integrate into the adopted homeland, they also become foreigners to their parents. Success comes with failure; the win comes with a loss. My play looks at that through the lens of Iranian immigrants and their American children. But I think it also speaks to the parent-child dynamic generally—how children inevitably become strangers to their parents, and vice versa.

The disconnect between generations—that’s one theme in the play. Another is its opposite: generational repetition. Minu is a strong, independent woman who balks at what she sees as her mother’s oppressive marriage to her father. Yet Minu ends up repeating some of the same dynamics in her own marriage. I find that parent-child experience—I’m not like you, I’ll never be you, oh crap I am you—endlessly fascinating. It’s about parents and children, but it’s also about how people define themselves in relation to one another: an opposition that’s also a binding tie, a hate that’s also love.

What was the writing process like for you? Has the story changed when you first started writing it?

It was similar to the process for all my plays, which isn’t terribly exciting: I take notes about themes, characters, structure; I jot down snippets of dialogue; I pose lots of what-if questions. Then I draft and re-draft (and re-draft) until the play starts to appear. For the most part, I find the writing process painful, and this play had some particularly difficult passages to write, like the father’s moments of explosive anger or the impasse between the mother and daughter.

In terms of what changed about the play, an early version showed the mother’s mother in flashback scenes, but I thought that came off as too formulaic. Like: In case you’re not getting the theme of generational repetition—here it is again. I also decided against it because I wanted to convey this immigrant family’s sense of isolation within a hostile, conservative environment in the South. And the play’s classic structure—a single place on a single day—helped do that.

What are you looking for or hoping to develop further with this reading?

Since the characters have been inside my head for so long, I’m eager to see who they become when the director and actors bring them alive. That always leads to exciting discoveries about how to enrich the play.

Shirin prides herself in making a hearty home-cooked meal for her family, so what's your favorite home-cooked meal?

My mother’s fesenjan, a Persian chicken dish with a tart-sweet pomegranate and walnut sauce—but that was before I went vegetarian a few years ago. Now it’s pesto I make from basil I get at my nearby farmer’s market every summer. Hard to go back to the store-bought stuff once you’ve had the homemade version—which, as Shirin would happily point out, is always true.