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

a Drama
by Suzan-Lori Parks

COMPANY : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
ID# 5073

SHOWING : May 13, 2017 - June 11, 2017



Offered his freedom in exchange for fighting for the Confederacy, a slave named Hero follows his master into the Civil War. His epic journey takes him through the battles of war, and he comes to discover the cost of freedom, the heartbreak of love and the enduring power of home. Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks’ ("Topdog/Underdog") acclaimed trilogy is one of the most celebrated American plays of the past decade.

The Oldest Old Man Rob Cleveland
Colonel Bryan Davis
Homer Marcus Hopkins-Turner
Penny Brittany Inge
Slave, Odyssey Dog Jason-Jamal Ligon
Slave, Runaway Seun Soyemi
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Father Comes Home from the Wars (Hours 1, 2 & 3)
by playgoer
Monday, May 15, 2017
First off, it’s LONG. Each of the three acts lasts about an hour, and there are two intermissions. Second off, its story makes parallels to the story of Odysseus, but, like parallel lines, the two stories never intersect. It’s a supremely ambitious work, marred by anachronisms and direct audience address, but rescued by some wonderful performances.

The first act revolves around the choice Hero (Evan Cleaver), a slave, has been given by his master -- to stay on the plantation and toil or to join his master fighting in the Civil War and, as his master has promised, gain his freedom. Other slaves wager on what his decision will be. He is swayed most by Penny (Brittany Inge), his common-law wife, and by his father figure (Rob Cleveland). Important input also comes from Homer (Marcus Hopkins-Turner), a fellow slave whose foot Hero chopped off after an escape attempt. The act consists of Hero being pulled one way or the other in making his decision. Given the title of the play, it’s obvious what his final choice will be.

The second act depicts a day at war in which Hero guards a captured Yankee soldier (Richard McDonald) under the supervision of Hero’s master, the Colonel (Bryan Davis). This is the most dramatic of the acts, with Hero’s subservience to his blustering master masking inner turmoil, and with a sudden revelation about the identity of the soldier upping the stakes in determining if Hero will attempt an escape.

The third act brings Hero back home, to where Penny and Homer are harboring three runaway slaves (Seun Soyemi, Damian Lockhart, and Meagan Dilworth). Hero’s faithful dog (Jason-Jamal Ligon), absent in the first act after running away, shows up in this act, in a display of magical realism. It’s not a happy ending, as once again Hero has made what seems to be a random or cowardly life decision.

The play discusses the issues of fidelity and freedom and seems to indicate that the choice to seek them is not as clear-cut as standard-issue morality might indicate. It’s a long slog to a depressing conclusion, and it’s not easy for all theatre-goers to follow.

The set design by James Ogden resembles that of Actor’s Express’s recent "The Crucible." The two halves of the audience face one another across a playing space with tree branches suspended above. Panels behind the audience and tree trunks at either end of the auditorium add to the bosky feel. The porch of a ramshackle shack appears at the end of the playing area for the first and third acts; in the second act, a crude cage of small branches replaces it. Three stumps and an ever-present campfire are permanent fixtures of the set. André C. Allen’s lighting nicely suggests different times of day, albeit with some odd streaks of light on the drop behind the shack.

Suzanne Cooper Morris’ props and Elizabeth Rasmusson’s costumes do a good job of suggesting the Civil War time period, although some shoes are wildly out of period. Since a couple of pairs of shoes are taken off during the course of the play, it’s disconcerting when they have modern soles, styling, and laces. Of course, the script tosses in modern expressions here and there, so perhaps this is part of an overall aesthetic mandated by the playwright.

Jake K. Harbour’s sound design works well, although the songs that start and end most of the acts are very repetitious in melody and act mostly as bookends to let the audience know when an act is complete. Anything adding to the length of an already-long performance needs to be carefully considered.

Director Martin Damien Wilkins has blocked the action to make good use of the stage, with neither side of the audience unfairly deprived of good sightlines for long periods of time. He has also elicited good performances out of all the actors, although some performances are more successful than others. Meagan Dilworth can’t make all her expository dialogue sound totally natural, while Brittany Inge’s Penny hits true notes throughout her performance. Rob Cleveland puts forth a strong performance, as expected, and Evan Cleaver fills the lead role with stolid dependability. Bryan Davis and Richard McDonald both shine in the second act, and Jason-Jamal Ligon brings a bit of goofy brightness to the third act. Best of all, though, is Marcus Hopkins-Turner, whose physicality, vocal power, line readings, and facial expressions deftly limn a character who has been woefully mistreated by life, but whose resentments have fueled his determination to achieve some sort of happiness.

Suzan-Lori Parks is an important contemporary American playwright, and her play attempts to address big issues of race and self-determination. It’s just so all-fired BIG, though, that it tends to come across as a big lump of "theatre that is good for you." The entertainment factor diminishes as the play goes on and on. The play is worthwhile to see, but an abbreviated version of it might be more successful, much as Ms. Parks’ diffuse and lengthy "The America Play" morphed into the more focused "Topdog/Underdog." [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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