After several weeks of seeing shows, I think I’ve finally found my new favorite this season (and I hope it’ll be yours, too). Making good theater is a tough game, but I’m pretty confident that Suzan-Lori Parks, Jo Bonney, and The Public Theater (in tandem with A.R.T) have figured out how to win it this season with Parks’ latest play Father Comes Home From the Wars (Part 1, 2 & 3). In this epic, which is reminiscent of Homer’s The Odyssey, Parks takes us back to the Civil War when the hunger for freedom was at it’s pinnacle and black slaves were forced to fight for the Confederacy. Our hero of these plays, Hero (played by Sterling K. Brown) wants to achieve freedom like the next slave, only he wants to earn it in what he considers the right way (i.e. not running away).
Part 1 “A Measure of a Man” starts with a group of slaves waiting for sunup and placing bets on whether or not Hero is going to decide to go to war on the Confederate side with the “Boss-Master” in the morning; the slaves try to sway him in different directions. As Hero’s one-footed frenemy Homer (played by Jeremie Harris) states, “Penny she’s got her woman’s love and she’ pulling him to stay/Old Man, he’s got his father’s love and he’s pulling him away.” Hero’s most faithful dog “Odd-See has pulled a disappearing act which further causes confusion and doubt. Secrets are revealed and the master’s promise of freedom if Hero goes to war looms like a cloud over his decision.
Which takes us into Part 2 “A Battle in the Wilderness,” where (SPOILER ALERT but not really because the title is a big tip-off), during the war, the Colonel/”Boss Master” (played by Ken Marks) is taunting a Yankee captive named Smith (played by Louis Cancelmi) while waiting for Hero to return with firewood and water. The two debate about slavery, and poor Hero gets thrown in the middle of the discussion whereupon he is analyzed like livestock to estimate his worth as a slave. The Colonel asks of Hero, “If a man wanted to buy you from me today, how much should I ask for do you think?” Things get a little ugly, but Hero finds an unexpected connection with Smith.
Part 3 or “The Union of My Confederate Parts” takes us back to the plantation where Homer and Hero’s girl Penny (played by Jenny Jules) have been shacking up in Hero’s absence. A group of runaway slaves that also serve as a Greek chorus are waiting for nightfall (we’ve come full circle) to continue their journey, and they try to convince Penny and Homer to join them. The Odyssey Dog (played by Jacob Ming-Trent) that was missing in part 1 has returned with some important news about the war, the Colonel, and Hero. Is Hero dead? Will Penny leave with Homer and the runaways? Go see the show and find out what happens!
Reasons to Go:
- This play offers a refreshing approach to the Civil War with a cross-blend of contemporary and period language, costumes, and music that fits seamlessly into the piece. Chuck Taylor’s, earthen-colored hoodies, Crocs, and corduroys mix with traditional antebellum-wares and establish a happy medium. The poetry of Suzan-Lori Parks’ text is very engaging, and the play is full of great lines/words of wisdom. In Part 2, the Colonel has a monologue about why “I am grateful every day that God made me white.” Heavy stuff, but very powerful! It’s surprising how much of the play is relevant to today.
Who doesn’t love a good love triangle?
- There is quite a bit of comedy in the play! Jacob Ming-Trent as the Odyssey Dog pretty much steals the show in Part 3. He brings a lot of energy and comic relief which balances very well with the major jaw-dropping moments that cause the whole audience to gasp. If you don’t react, it means you’re probably dead.
- Live music performed before and after each part that ties into what’s happening in the story performed by guitarist Steven Bargonetti.
- The overall amazing cast, but especially Jenny Jules who played Penny. She is an incredible actress from England who KILLED IT in The Donmar Warehouse’s Julius Caesar last year at St. Ann’s Warehouse. She’s definitely one to follow!
- Technically, you’re seeing 3 plays in one night! 3 plays by award-winning Suzan-Lori Parks? Sounds like a win-win to me!
- It’s the first 3 parts of a 9 part epic tale to be continued that will take us into the present day. Don’t regret not seeing it now when the next parts come out later. It is the world premier after all!
Who Should Go: Pre-teens through adults
- Seating is on 3 sides, but the center section offers the best view.
- The running time is 2 hours and 45 minutes, and there is an intermission. Definitely don’t go hungry!
- Part 1 and 2 are both in Act 1, so definitely go to the bathroom before the show starts because you don’t want to miss a second of it!
- Runs through Nov 16, so catch the show while you can!
Themes: Civil War, Freedom, Fidelity, Slavery, Race
Advisory: Mild Racist language sometimes used. Some physical violence.
Show Information: The Public Theater presents in association with American Repertory Theater Father Comes Home From the Wars (Part 1, 2 & 3) through November 16 in the Anspacher Theater at The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street at Astor Place. Visit the Public Theater website for more info.