Review

Goodman Theatre’s Father Comes Home from the Wars: an American Epic

Sydney Charles (Second), Jacqueline Williams (Leader), Ernest Perry Jr. (Oldest Old Man), Michael Aaron Pogue (Fourth), Ronald L. Conner (Third) and Kamal Angelo Bolden (Hero). Photo by Liz Lauren.

Inspired by the tales of Homer, Suzan-Lori Parks’ Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2, and 3) explores issues of loyalty and freedom during the Civil War. The play’s set-up is deceptively simple, yet thematically rich: a slave named Hero (Kamal Angelo Bolden) is offered his freedom if he agrees to fight alongside his Confederate master. Under the deft playwriting hand of a Pulitzer-winner such as Parks, Hero’s three-part journey–which parallels similar epics such as Homer’s The Odysey and Virgil’s Aeneid–offers a rich look into the enduring and disruptive effects of slavery on a man who yearns for freedom.

Courtney O’Neill’s scenic design itself suggests the looming presence of the Confederacy during Hero’s journey to and from war, a weight that is paralleled in the eyes of Bolden. His heartbreaking turn as Hero is full of subtlety and impressive restraint. O’Neill’s stark grey setting–complete with a raised, X-shaped playing space which pits actors against each other in a variety of angles–seems to offer little hope even as Hero seems closer to reaching is ultimate goal.

Staged and directed with the gravitas of a Greek tragedy by Niegel Smith, Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2, and 3) crafts its narrative with rich language. Parks’ text is smart, fluidly moving between a hip, contemporary vernacular and more heightened passages. Each actor expertly handles the text, while also expressing the humor of some of their character’s interactions. Two such actors are Ernest Perry Jr. as The Oldest Old Man, who also adds to Hero’s inner conflict, and BrittneyLove Smith, whose monologue as Odyssey Dog is both heartwarming and hilarious.

Actors like Aimé Donna Kelly in the role of Penny handle their characters’ cathartic arcs with aplomb. From scenes of levity to monologues with real emotional weight, this capable cast tackles the play’s diverse range of scenes, monologues and interludes with impressive emotional range.   

Running more than three hours, including two 15-minute intermissions, Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2, and 3) is an ancient epic on American themes. Part historical fiction, part epic poem, Smith’s production illustrates the inventiveness of a playwright as well as the impressive work of a cast wholly committed to the story they are telling. Featuring music from Chicago blues musician Melody Angel, the overall evening is a rewarding reminder of the potential of the American theater.

Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2, and 3) continues through June 24 at the Goodman’s Owen Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St. Tickets are available online at www.goodmantheatre.org or by calling the box office at 312-443-3800.

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