THE BLACK AMERICAN WAR EXPERIENCE IS A POETIC GEM OF BLUES, JAZZ AND AN URBAN ODYSSEY
The civil war epic “Father Comes Home From the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3)” sweeps on to ACT’s Geary stage through May 20th. Suzan-Lori Parks’ epic three hour drama that opened May 1st at ACT’s main Geary stage in a co-production with Yale Repertory. Directed by Liz Diamond, she brings a rich stunning cast to create this Odyssey that uses the Civil War as its backdrop to tell the story of the black experience of soldiers that fought for the slave infested South. Parks’ play focuses on the race conversation being a headline story, her play is even more timely now. The story explores the journey of a slave during the Civil War. It is a chorus to Greek theater, and racial commentary that questions the history of the African-American experience in war.
Parks is the first African-American woman to get the Pulitzer Prize for Drama with her amazing “Topdog/Underdog”. She was crowned “the black women playwright” and said “I don’t mind the label, but I do mind what happens next; Black women playwright equals some sort of play. People say the black experience is X - that’s all we get to write about, but its not my thing”. Parks continues to push boundaries with her unique language of jazz, blues, history, dance and her fuse of love and poetry. She opens a new conversation about slavery and freedom.
In her version of The Odyssey she creates the tale of her hero named Hero played by the powerhouse James Udon who begins his odyssey as a slave in West Texas in 1862. Hero is asked by his master to help defend the confederacy and needs a valet. He offered Hero this job with the promise that he will be granted his freedom at wars end. It is a stunning script; a compelling story that moves well even with its long 3 hour experience. It is poetry with added music written by Parks and performed by the exceptional Martin Luther McCoy that brings the American experience of Parks’ play. It is not always historically perfect or even has that Civil War feel but a clever mix of modern and urban language, setting, clothing, and dance that does not distract from the arc of the play.
Hero has left his love, Penny, played by the grand Eboni Flowers, and follows the advice from the other slaves, Homer played by the superb Julian Elijah Martinez and Oldest Old Man, the impressive Steven Anthony Jones. “A free man, is worth nothing. As a slave, I am worth $800” says Hero. Part Two opens with a southern Colonel played by local favorite Dan Hiatt, who has captured a northern soldier played by Tom Pecinka. In Part Three, Hero’s lost dog Odyssey shows up in human form played by the entertaining Greg Wallace. Penny and Homer reunite in a unexpected homecoming as the Emancipation Proclamation changes the mood of history.
Pecinka gives an intriguing performance as Smith, the captured Union soldier with a surprising arc in his story. Part 3 is a bit surreal with a talking dog; it’s entertaining and dark at the same time. Parts 1 and 2 create chilling realism so adding this fantastical talking dog character can be out of place, but Wallace steals the 3rd act as the dog and ends up delivering one of the most important text in the script.
The costumes by Sarah Nietfeld are rich with character and earth tones and Hero’ slips in an out of both grey and blue uniforms. The clothing is moody and one of the highlights of the craft team. Yi Zhao’s dramatic lighting design on Riccardo Hernández’s stark, open raked set is simple but the large battlefield is breathtaking. Frederick Kennedy’s sound design is awesome as the sounds of war rocked me from my seat as well as his music mix. Suzan Lori Parks’ original music is filled with the American experience and the blues, current urban slang, regional folk, jazz and passion of the Civil War.
Director Liz Diamond keeps the script moving and cast intriguing through the three hours The exceptional eye catching mix with Randy Duncan’s choreography dance rhythms are polished. Parks is working on parts four through nine and will take our Hero’s journey more into the American Dream as she questions slavery and freedom. This is a sure beginning to an epic new work of the Black American experience as it relates to any race. A must see and a perfect way to celebrate the themes of “The Color Purple” now on stage down the street at The Orpheum Theatre. Seats are easy to acquire for this run with great prices as low as $15.00. “Father Comes Home from the War” a perfect way to start your summer theatre season .
American Conservatory Theatre and The Yale Rep Present
Father Comes Home From the Wars
(Parts 1, 2 & 3)
Written by Suzan-Lori Parks
Directed by Liz Diamond
Through May 20
ACT’s Geary Theater, 415 Geary St., S.F.
Three hours one intermission
$15-$110, subject to change
(415) 749-2228. www.act-sf.org
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
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