FATHER COMES HOME FROM THE WARS (Qunitessence): A theatrical odyssey

Deja Anderson-Ross and Eric Carter in FATHER COMES HOME FROM THE WAR. Photo by Linda Johnson.

Father Comes Home From The Wars by Suzan-Lori Parks is remarkable in many ways. There’s no denying the appeal that took the audience to its feet at the end of the Sunday June 9 matinee. The production is first rate with splendid actors and inspired direction, however, watching for three hours requires endurance. Done in three parts, each an hour long, the audience badly needs the ten minute breaks after Part One and after Part Two. 

Part One: The Measure of a Man, takes place in the early spring of 1862 at a Texas plantation, where there’s consternation in the slave quarters about whether or not the character, Hero, will choose to accompany the plantation owner, the Boss-Master and a CSA Colonel, to fight for the southern side in the Civil War. Hero’s dog, Odyssey, considered by all to be his good luck, is missing and a matter of concern. Parks has a wonderful way with dialogue which the multitalented actors exploit with glee, but it seems to go on forever and ever, hallelujah. Twenty minutes cut from Part I would only strengthen the play. With revision, we could have a strong example of the Bauhaus dictum, “Less is more.” 

Part Two: Battle in the Wilderness, finds us lost and separated from the main body of troops in the late summer of 1862, rough camped in what may or may not be the wilds of Virginia. The Colonel has taken a Yankee prisoner, and Hero has been sent out to bring back water and firewood. Here again the action and dialogue are sharp and telling. This is the strongest part of the play, an absolute triumph.

Part Three: The Union of my Confederate Parts, brings us back to the Texas plantation, where the talk centers around whether or not Hero will return. This is the weakest part of the play, and it goes off the rails with developments, some amazing and some just silly, in a marked departure from the plot that was so carefully developed in Parts One and Two. It seems like a non sequitur which goes on interminably and could easily, and with little effort, morph into musical comedy. It is partially rescued by the heartening performance by actor Steven Anthony Wright as Odyssey, Hero’s long-missing pooch that’s considered to be his luck. Not exactly sure what’s meant by that, but Wright’s performance as the dog is a delight, and his antics bring much needed relief to a confusing and bewildering scene. 

Suzan-Lori Parks is a justly celebrated and talented playwright whose play Topdog/Underdog was a singular triumph as she was the first African American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. God bless anyone who can bring home a Pulitzer, and more power to her. Father Comes Home From The Wars, however, has as of yet taken no Pulitzers, perhaps it could use shortening and some revision. 

The Director, Raelle Myrick-Hodges, has written in the program that “most white people assume that I am in service to them.” I wonder who she’s hanging out with. At Quintessence Theatre a majority white audience came to the show and gave it a standing O.

We’re told that Homer’s epic ancient Grecian poem The Odyssey was the inspiration for Parks’ Father Comes Home From The Wars. It is good that we are so informed as references to Homer’s narrative are not completely clear in the production. But no matter. Despite the excessive length of the play, Father Comes Home From The Wars is still a towering achievement and well worth watching.

[Quintessence Theatre at the Sedgewick Theater, 7137 Germantown Ave] May 29-June 23, 2024; quintessencetheatre.org

Approximately 3 hours with two intermissions

Director: Raelle Myrick-Hodges; Music & Songs: Suzan-Lori Parks; Set Design, Meghan Jones; Light Design, Isabella Gill; Costume Design, Tiffany Bacon; Sound Design & Music Directions & Arrangements, Michael Kiley; Props, Eliot Curtis; Fight Director, Josh Kachnycz; Intimacy Director, Bess Rowan; Voice & Accent Coach, Jamison Foreman; Production Stage Manager, Kelly Hardy; Assistant Stage Manager, Ryan Lusk

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