Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3)

by Daniel Lamb

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday May 18, 2017

Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3)

In "Father Comes Home From The Wars (Parts 1,2,3)," Suzan-Lori Parks offers a winding, lyric adaptation of Homer's "Odyssey" set against the backdrop of the American Civil War.

Originally published in 2015, Parks' play won was a finalist for the 2015 Pulitzer in Drama and won the 2015 Edward M. Kennedy Prize for a theatrical work inspired by American history and the 2015 Obie Award for Playwriting. Previously, Parks won a Pulitzer for her play "Topdog/Underdog."

History is most often told by the victors. Parks tells the story of a slave who's offered his freedom with a caveat -- go to war and fight on the side of the Confederacy. The play begins with an American chorus singing folk music, echoing the Greek form and vacillates between lyric and prosaic dialogue with each changing act. The lyric sections of the play are immensely enjoyable for their rhythmic qualities, and not absent is Parks' ability to bend language to her own dramatic will.

We meet a group of Southern slaves, taking bets in the night on whether the protagonist, Hero, will go to war to serve his "Boss Master." What ensues is a funny, endearing, heart-wrenching tale of one of the most inhumane aspects of American history and the unfolding of consequences Hero must face to gain his freedom. The play runs just over three hours with two ample intermissions.

Directed by Martin Damien Wilkins, the Actor's Express production of this play does not disappoint. He captures Parks' lyric sensibilities alongside her uninterrupted critical view of the concept of America.

Evan Cleaver performs the role of Hero with nuance and with a multifaceted persona that has you rooting for him in certain points of the narrative and perplexed, if not disappointed in him at others. He clearly grasps the complexity of the character, and it really shines through in his acting.

Of particular note are his interactions with Boss Master. His attempts at appeasing his owner through nervous laughter capture an authenticity that was difficult to abide. In the role of Homer, Marcus Hopkins-Turner brings a somber, grounding, and at times, desperate element to the play, bringing to life Homer's own struggles as a wounded man in search of an anchor.

Brittany Inge brings the role of Penny to life in a powerful way. Penny is the one character who gives us a sense of what it was like to be an African-American woman during the time of the Civil War. Penny's struggle is one that Inge captures beautifully -- the pain, the frustration, the hope, the settling and the heartache.

Rob Cleveland achieves a particular level of earnestness as the Oldest Old Man, and his authenticity is visceral. Equally disturbing and provocative is Bryan Davis as Colonel "Boss Master" whose performance gives the audience an insight into the mind of a bigoted slave owner whose self-aggrandized ideations are made real through his actions of egoism.

Sparsely staged, the majority of the action of the play happens in an open space in front of a slave cabin (Acts I & III). Act II occurs in a vacant wilderness space, punctuated by a fire pit and a cage housing a prisoner of war. These staging choices reveal the poverty of the characters and the spiritual poverty of the America in which the play occurs.

While this play may not be Parks' most gut-wrenching, visceral work to date, it does do a masterful job of raising awareness of the concept of freedom within a patriarchal, racist society. There is a particularly telling conversation about what comes after Emancipation, foreshadowing the injustices of Jim Crow that continue today with corruption and police brutality.

At the center of "Father Comes Home From the Wars" is that America was and is a racist nation, and changing that is going to be hard work.

"Father Comes Home From the Wars (Parts 1, 2, and 3)" runs through June 11 at Actor's Express, King Plow Arts Center 887 West Marietta Street NW Atlanta, GA 30318. For tickets and information, call 404-607-7469 or visit https://www.actors-express.com