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BWW Review: FATHER COMES HOME FROM THE WARS (PARTS 1, 2 & 3) at Goodman Theatre

BWW Review: FATHER COMES HOME FROM THE WARS (PARTS 1, 2 & 3) at Goodman Theatre

In FATHER COMES HOME FROM THE WARS (PARTS 1, 2 & 3), Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks draws on Homeric tradition to spin an epic of the American Civil War. Intended as the first three parts of nine, an episodic structure ties loosely together the narrative of Hero (Kamal Angelo Bolden), a Texas slave who must decide whether or not to join the Confederate army under his master's promise that fighting will earn his freedom.

Adding gravitas to his belabored decision, Hero's fellow slaves form a chorus in the style of Greek drama during Part 1. With the addition of his wife Penny (Aimé Donna Kelly), rival Homer (Jaime Lincoln Smith) and beloved, absent dog Odyssey, the setup for an Odysseus-like journey is complete. Part 2 finds Hero on the outskirts of a Southern battlefield in the company of his sadistic master, a colonel in the Confederate army (William Dick), and a captured Union captain with a surprising secret, Smith (Demetrios Troy). In the finale of this initial trilogy, Hero-now called Ulysses-returns to a complicated home life after the Emancipation Proclamation. Supported by a compelling ensemble cast, Kamal Angelo Bolden is particularly moving as Hero/Ulysses, a complex protagonist who faces impossible decisions with flawed, believably human grace.

Although set in the 1860s, Parks' tale resonates strongly with current issues in America. Dealing with themes such as the worth of a human being, the meaning of freedom, and the lasting effects of slavery, Parks explores the complicated ways in which our present is shaped by our past. Director Niegel Smith and his design team create a visual language that complements these themes. Courtney O'Neill's set forms an imposing granite backdrop in the shape of the Confederate flag, while Linda Cho's costumes for the slaves evoke modern-day prison clothes in Part 1 and incorporate the patterns of the American flag in Part 3. In light of today's heated debates over the symbols of America's past and present, this visual imagery is both striking and relevant. A blues soundtrack, performed live onstage by Chicago singer-songwriter Melody Angel, adds yet another element connecting this historical fiction to the present.

FATHER COMES HOME briefly overlaps with the brilliant HAVING OUR SAY, which plays next door in the Goodman's Albert Theatre. Programming these two thematically related yet structurally disparate plays alongside each other is another instance of The Goodman Theatre's eagerness to engage with timely issues.

FATHER COMES HOME FROM THE WARS (PARTS 1, 2 & 3) plays through June 24 at The Goodman Theatre, 170 N Dearborn Street, Chicago, IL 60601. Tickets are available at goodmantheatre.org or 312.443.3800.

Photo credit: Liz Lauren

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From This Author Emily McClanathan

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