Review Roundup: FATHER COMES HOME FROM THE WARS (Parts 1, 2 & 3) Opens at the Public
Tonight, October 28, The Public Theater officially opens Suzan-Lori Parks' FATHER COMES HOME FROM THE WARS (PARTS 1, 2 & 3). Jo Bonney directs this moving and haunting drama comprised of three plays presented in a single performance.
FATHER COMES HOME FROM THE WARS (PARTS 1, 2 & 3) features Sterling K. Brown (Hero); Louis Cancelmi (Smith); Peter Jay Fernandez (Oldest Old Man); Jeremie Harris (Homer); Russell G. Jones (Leader, Runaway); Jenny Jules (Penny); Ken Marks (Colonel); Jacob Ming-Trent (Fourth, Odyssey Dog); Tonye Patano (Third Runaway); and Julian Rozzell Jr. (Second Runaway).
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Charles Isherwood, The New York Times: By turns philosophical and playful, lyrical and earthy, Suzan-Lori Parks's new play, "Father Comes Home From the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3)," swoops, leaps, dives and soars across three endlessly stimulating hours, reimagining a turbulent turning point in American history through a cockeyed contemporary lens. An epic drama that follows the fortunes of a slave who troops off to fight in the Civil War -- on the Confederate side -- Ms. Parks's play...seems to me the finest work yet from this gifted writer...The production also represents a high-water mark in the career of the director Jo Bonney. And while I'm throwing around superlatives, I might as well add that "Father Comes Home From the Wars" might just be the best new play I've seen all year.
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: In her brilliant, beautiful Father Comes Home From the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3), which is the playwright's most accessible work since that 2002 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Parks has achieved something that engages with a bold theatricality both lyrical and raw, without sacrificing any of her thematic ambition or her structural and intellectual complexity. Each of the three parts thrums with its own vitality, but consumed together in director Jo Bonney's outstandingly acted production, they form a mutually invigorating whole. Parks' incomparable command of percussive vernacular is no surprise, and her dialogue here might just as easily be sung. This haunting work is funny and tragic, whimsical and lacerating, poetic and poignant, navigating its radical tonal shifts with fluidity and grace. The trilogy also manages, with stylized language, wit and economy of design, to plug historical experience directly into the socket of contemporary life.
Linda Winer, Newsday: Suzan-Lori Parks earned the 2002 Pulitzer for her exhilarating and poetic "Topdog/Underdog" and, even before that, was already one of the most provocative playwrights we have. So we're struggling to see beneath the obvious, almost banal surfaces of "Father Comes Home From the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3)"...This initial chunk, which runs nearly three hours, does provoke questions. Unfortunately, so far, anyway, they are more confusing than interesting...Sometimes Parks bounces lines among characters in gritty verse...We keep waiting for her to tighten the narrative strings until we feel the playwright's keen presence -- or, failing that, feel something at all.
David Cote, Time Out NY: It took 25 years of postmodern larking, but Suzan-Lori Parks has finally arrived at classical proportions: Her Civil War triptych is built along the sharp, symmetrical lines of Greek tragedy and Homeric epic...Now Parks begins an exciting new phase...Watch out, August Wilson...The language is poetic and formal, a modified 19th-century slave idiom imbued with Parks's improvisatory, jazzy irreverence...There's much beautiful writing, done justice by a vibrant ensemble under Jo Bonney's firm, luminous direction. After decades in which Parks encouraged us to get lost in the holes of history, she's playing where theater began: with song, story, ritual and catharsis. Welcome back, Suzan-Lori.
Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News: Suzan-Lori Parks' worthwhile and well-acted play "Father Comes Home From the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3)" is an epic work that asks big questions. Like, what does it mean, and cost, to be free? Who will you be when you're truly free?...It's an intriguing start for a sprawling, albeit slow-moving, work.
Matt Windman, AM New York: Considering how bizarre and baffling most of Parks' other work has been, it's a relief to report that this is a challenging but comprehensible work more reminiscent of Greek tragedy than the avant-garde, which carefully explores moral dilemmas and hard choices. Jo Bonney's simple production is led by a very capable cast that beautifully handles Parks' lyrical language.
Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post: As indicated by the names and some story lines, Parks was inspired by the Greeks, from the betrayals of family and friends to the inspirational voyage of "The Odyssey." The show, briskly directed by Jo Bonney, aims for the scope and poetic tone you'd expect from those references. But "Father" is also earthy and irreverently funny, neither pompous tragedy nor Ken Burns-type re-enactment. Esosa's costumes incorporate period touches and Crocs...Parks' picaresque journey doesn't always fulfill its ambitions, but it's provocative and rich enough to make you curious about the next six parts.
Jesse Green, Vulture: Can one-third of something already be a masterpiece? Seems like it to me...Parks is willing, even in establishing a complicated story, to throw the audience curveballs from the start...Parks is generous not only to the oppressor, but to the oppressed who fear freedom...Father Comes Home from the Wars is also heartbreakingly individual, in just the way that history itself is. As good as the play is, I believe that none of it would work if it were not for Jo Bonney's beautifully cast and calibrated production. Her shaping of the scenes has a musical quality, and not just because of the folksy songs that open and close each part...There's also a classical, almost symphonic quality to the contrast of themes and the return of motifs and the patience with which the story is allowed to develop...There's no weak link, but Sterling K. Brown as Hero makes a powerful, complicated leading man throughout.
Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly: Suzan-Lori Parks' stunning new drama, Father Comes Home From the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3), is that rare work of art: one that bears the heavy burden of its subject matter -- the peculiar institution of American slavery -- but that carries it lightly...Parks...both elevates her themes with echoes of classic literature...while at the same time doubling down on comedy...Parks establishes a natural, sometimes anachronistic language for her characters (''True that,'' one says). It's a straddling of two worlds that is reinforced by Jo Bonney's staging, with its deployment of hand-signal greetings, and ESosa's costumes, which evoke a plantation wear but with henleys and high-tops. This is serious work that is serious entertaining. A
Matthew Murray, Talkin' Broadway: Suzan-Lori Parks's primary hook as a playwright has long been her willingness -- daring? -- to bring poetry to what often seems that least inherently poetic of American subjects: the plight of African-Americans...she's done it almost exclusively without the epic sweep that might catapult her into a similar pantheon of greatness. But with her sweeping nine-chapter cycle Father Comes Home From the Wars, that might change. It's difficult to make too many overarching judgments based only on what just opened at The Public Theater...but seen in isolation, and as a promise of what's to come, this would appear to be Parks's most potent and mature work yet. For unlike many that have preceded it...this writing earns what it achieves, but also the way it achieves it. Rather than rely on symbolic tricks or conceits to use as cudgels to drive her points home, Parks lets the words and their presentation do all of the talking.
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Photo Credit: Joan Marcus