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Raphael Parry, the executive and artistic director of Shakespeare Dallas, chats about the upcoming Shakespeare in the Park season, which will feature two Shakespeare plays, “Much Ado About Nothing” and “Antony and Cleopatra.” This season, Shakespeare in the Park will also feature its second non-Shakespeare play, “Tartuffe” by Moliere.

Advocate: I got this press release saying it’s Shakespeare’s 450th birthday this year. In your opinion, why is Shakespeare still relevant for us today?

Raphael Parry: I think the thing that’s still compelling about Shakespeare is that he created unbelievably enduring characters. Romeo and Juliet, how many teenager have had a love that was sort of forbidden? That’s an absolutely timeless plot that has evolved. There are so many plots like that that have become embedded in our culture and our media. When I was growing up there were cartoons with Shakespeare plots embedded in them. Of course I didn’t realize that at the time.

“Taming of the Shrew,” you’ve got that harsh, beautiful girl. No one could figure out how to love her. We see these themes over and over. “Hamlet” trying to avenge the death of his father.

He invented thousands of words that are embedded in our vocabulary, that he literally invented because he was trying to complete a rhyme, or he couldn’t find a word that aptly described what was going on — like “assassination.”

Advocate: I noticed y’all are doing “Much Ado About Nothing” this season, which is one of my personal favorite Shakespeare plays.

Parry: “Much Ado” is probably one of Shakespeare’s wittiest plays — all the wordplay from those two great characters, Beatrice and Benedict, which ironically are not considered the leads. But they’re so iconic, that we often think of them when we talk about “Much Ado About Nothing.” They’re the subplot, but that subplot is so rich. That relationship is so fun, frankly. Shakespeare was so genius when he created those characters because they’re so multi-dimensional.

Advocate: This is only the second time that y’all have done a non-Shakespeare play, right? 

Parry: Yes, this is only the second non-Shakeapeare play in the history of the company. The challenge of producing Shakespeare plays for as long as we have, which is 43 years, you have to repeat Shakespeare plays every so often. So this year we chose “Much Ado About Nothing” and paired it with “Tartuffe,” which is written by Moliere 40 years after Shakespeare stopped writing.

What I’ve always found is that — as with many of the writers who wrote plays after Shakespeare — Shakespeare had a profound influence on him. We just felt like the two plays balanced each other well. They both deal with love and jealousy and trust.

Advocate: So what is “Tartuffe” about? 

Parry: It’s a really funny play. Laughter is a good way to explore. Tartuffe is a con man. He’s a hypocrite posing as a religious man who’s duping the master of the household with all this religious fodder, and meanwhile trying to sleep with his wife and his daughter and taking all his money. He’s finally revealed at the end. I think what the play asks for is a reasoned approach to religion.

Advocate: With “Tartuffe” in particular, is there anything that stands out as having been strongly influenced by Shakespeare?

Parry: Definitely some of the comedic characters that Shakespeare used, and that Moliere then used also. Shakespeare had a lot of very smart, sassy servants who can typically see things that the royalty typically can’t see. There’s even a line in Tartuffe that echoes a line from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Advocate: Anything you’d like to add?

Parry: Just that we really feel a part of the East Dallas community because we’ve been there so long. There’s a ton of people that Shakespeare Dallas has become a ritual, a part of their lives to bring their children. And then their children grow up and bring their children. I hear that so much. It’s great. Keep bringing the kids to the theater.

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