Father Comes Home from the Wars Review - What is Loyalty? Freedom?

Playwright Suzan-Lori Parks tells us that FATHER COMES HOME FROM THE WARS constitutes only Parts 1, 2, and 3 or her planned epic spanning years and generations. The current portion of the epic has been broken down into three discrete segments which cover three years in real time. Although Parks states that her play is not based on a modern-day telling of Homer’s Odyssey, some names and events seem to suggest otherwise.  For example, the main character sports the name Hero, which he later changes to Ulysses. His faithful girlfriend/wife is named Penny, a nickname for Penelope. And his rival for Penny’s affections is named Homer. Even Hero’s dog reminds us of the Greek epic, since he is called - you guessed it - Odyssey.

 

Julian Rozzell Jr., Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris, Tonye Patano, and Russell G. Jones - Photo by Craig Schwartz

The tale revolves around Hero (Sterling K. Brown), a plantation slave who dreams of freedom. In fact, he informed on his best friend Homer (Larry Powell), a runaway slave, and assisted in cutting off his friend’s foot when he was caught - all because he was offered freedom in exchange for his actions. Now he is wrestling with another dilemma. The Colonel (Michael McKean) has again offered him freedom - if he will join him in fighting for the Confederacy. Hero leaves with the promise to return to his faithful lover Penny (Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris), who swears to wait for him. The war progresses as Hero continues to serve as the Colonel’s slave, still hoping that he will earn his freedom.

 

Julian Rozzell Jr., Roger Robinson, Sterling K. Brown, and Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris - Photo by Craig Schwartz

Finally, Hero returns to the plantation. Things have changed - but remained the same in some important ways.  Even though Penny pined from Hero, she allowed Homer into her bed while Hero was away. Fearing that he was dead, she finally agreed to run away with Homer - just as Hero shows up.

 

Michael McKean, Sterling K. Brown, and Josh Wingate - Photo by Craig Schwartz

The play delves into the complicated questions of faithfulness, loyalty, and freedom treated as dilemmas rather than as facts: “What do you do if you’re allowed to own yourself?” In fact, there is no pure faithfulness or loyalty among these characters - except perhaps for Hero’s dog Odyssey, who tracked Hero into the war and stayed by his side. This canine (Patrena Murray), dressed in a fur jacket, loves to smell new smells and have his belly rubbed – and, on top of that, is able to speak. He provides canine comic relief while summarizing some of the issues touched upon during all three parts of the epic. Like babies and pets, Odyssey becomes a scene stealer!

Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris, Larry Powell, Sterling K. Brown, Russell G. Jones, and Julian Rozzell Jr. - Photo by Craig Schwartz

                                                                                   

Director Jo Bonney does an excellent job of keeping the three sectors focused and goal-directed. The production team is to be congratulated on developing a set which represents the changing scenes and even the different times of day. Costumes are both idiosyncratic and anachronistic - with elements of the Civil War colliding with the modern: blue and gray uniforms, sneakers, and baseball caps are juxtaposed with abandon. FATHER COMES HOME FROM THE WARS is an interesting and involving concept which, however, becomes slow at times. Live music is provided by Steven Bargonetti as he wanders through the sets and provides counterpoint to the spoken word.

 

Patrena Murray and Sterling K. Brown - Photo by Craig Schwartz

FATHER COMES HOME FROM THE WARS runs through May 15, 2016, with performances at 8 p.m. on Tuesdays to Fridays, at 2:30 and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Sundays. The Mark Taper Forum is located at 135 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA. Tickets range from$25 to $85. For reservations, call 213-628-2772 or go online at www.centertheatregroup.org.

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