Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3): In brief
Suzan-Lori Parks (Topdog/Underdog) imagines the conflicts of a slave who must decide whether to follow his master to the Confederate battlefield. Jo Bonney directs the tripartite new work, which had a workshop run at the Public earlier this year.
Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3): Theater review by David Cote
It took 25 years of postmodern larking, but Suzan-Lori Parks has finally arrived at classical proportions: Her Civil War triptych is built along the sharp, symmetrical lines of Greek tragedy and Homeric epic. Previously, the dazzling writer flirted with absurdism (The America Play), historical grotesque (Venus), heightened realism (Topdog/Underdog) and Brechtian fable (Fucking A). Now Parks begins an exciting new phase: Father Comes Home from the Wars is the first part of a projected nine-play cycle that will supposedly take us to present day. Watch out, August Wilson.
The piece is classical in structure: three dramas, each unfolding in real time under an hour, two with choruses. The first takes place before sunrise, the third before sunset, the middle one at midday. The language is poetic and formal, a modified 19th-century slave idiom imbued with Parks’s improvisatory, jazzy irreverence. The trio of plots track the fortunes of Hero (K. Sterling Brown), a slave who must decide a) whether to follow his colonel master (Ken Marks) into battle, b) what to do with a Union soldier they capture in the field and c) how to manage reuniting with his lover, Penny (Jenny Jules). Parks signals her Greek influences with poker-faced directness: Hero changes his name to Ulysses; Penny is Penelope; Hero’s rival for her hand is Homer (Jeremie Harris); and waggishly, a talking dog is named Odd-See (Jacob Ming-Trent). The narrative arc is epic, but the moral bend of Hero’s journey is tragic.
There’s much beautiful writing, done justice by a vibrant ensemble under Jo Bonney’s firm, luminous direction. After decades in which Parks encouraged us to get lost in the holes of history, she’s playing where theater began: with song, story, ritual and catharsis. Welcome back, Suzan-Lori.—Theater review by David Cote
THE BOTTOM LINE An experimental icon goes back to her roots.
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