Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
Father Comes Home from the Wars, Parts 1, 2 & 3
Also see Zander's review of Jesus Christ Superstar
The initial segment (set in far west Texas in early spring, 1862), entitled "Measure of a Man," finds Hero (James Udom), a slave, offered the opportunity to go off with his master or boss but only if Hero will fight for the Southern Confederacy. Hero is already upset that his dog has disappeared. Now, he might take on a new uniform which, for him, creates a dilemma. He discusses this with The Oldest Old Man (Steven Anthony Jones), not Hero's biological father but a foster father whom he trusts. Hero and other slaves exchange viewpoints, There's the presence of another slave, Homer (Julian Elijah Martinez), who previously ran away, was captured, and then, for punishment, had a foot cut off. Hero knows that if he (Hero) were to have his own foot chopped or something equally physically hurtful, he would be permitted to stayand help farm.
The second portion of the production, "A Battle in the Wilderness," takes place a number of months later. It explores heated, impassioned three-way dialogue amongst Hero, The Colonel (Dan Hiatt), who is a Southerner, and Smith, a captive Union soldier (Tom Pecinka). Smith is confined, during most of the scene, to a cage and he has suffered a terrible leg injury. The Colonel (self-important but quite caring a bit later, it seems) eventually goes off and Hero and Smith engage in serious, emotional talk. Hero encourages Smith to make his way back the the Union militia. These two men contemplate a time when slaves are freed.
The finale, "The Union of My Confederate Parts," is a bit complicated. The locale is the same as it was during the first act but the time is now fall of 1863. Homer and Hero's former love interest Penny (Eboni Flowers) now live together. Three runaway slaves (Safiya Fredericks, Rotimi Agbabiaka, and Chivas Michael) are trying to get Homer to join them and leave the premises. The three performers (runaways in the third act) appeared in other roles during the first portion of the show.
Slaves, we gather during Part 3, have been emancipated through the Proclamation and the thought is that Master and Hero are now dead. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, the long-ago-forgotten Odyssey Dog (Gregory Wallace) shows up, breaks the fourth wall of theater presentation, and colloquially converses with the audience before turning to those on stage with him. Hero comes back but now is called Ulysses. Will Penny turn to Homer or Ulysses?
Liz Diamond, who has collaborated with Parks previously, gracefully and graciously directs Father Comes Home from the Wars with a knowing touch. Martin Luther McCoy, guitarist and vocalist, introduces the show and appears from time to time as he lends another wondrous dimension to the piece. His music tells stories. The playwright provides allusion to Homer's "Odyssey" through characters' names and plot. Parks' Hero is up against physical and emotional obstacles which are daunting. His and this play's journey are of major proportions yet Parks' scripting and its realization by a masterful cast are decipherable and accessible. One need not strain to figure out just what goes on. Parks' piece is epic but not overwhelming. Diamond allows for language to flourish. The experience is certainly worthy of consideration beyond the final curtain.
James Udom (Hero/Ulysses) performs with poise and passion. In his third year at Yale School of Drama, he carries this major role with aplomb. Actors Dan Hiatt as The Colonel and Tom Pecinka playing Smith ignite the second act with energy as they interface. Eboni Flowers (Penny), fully demonstrative her with facial expression, is in a difficult positionshe must choose between two intriguing men.
Parks takes a leap by introducing Odyssey Dog; many watching likely assumed the animal had perished. Actor Gregory Wallace sports dreadlocks and a fuzzy/furry coat and he is one major hoot! The dog's actualization changes the tone of the play. It has been seriously affecting until Odyssey Dog shows up; his comedy snaps the production into another direction.
The play probes people's lives and decisions. Watching, one empathizes and understands. The writer, too, addresses history and race. She is assisted, greatly, by Diamond's direction, costuming by Sarah Nietfeld, Yi Zhao's lighting, and Riccardo Hernandez's set design. For one sequence, the stage is raked forward at quite an angle. Suzan-Lori Parks also provides songs and additional music. She is an exceptionally gifted dramatist.
Father Comes Home from the Wars, Parts 1, 2 & 3, through April 7th, 2018, at the University Theatre, 1120 Chapel St, New Haven CT. Tickets may be purchased by calling 203-432-1234 or visiting yalerep.org.