“Father Comes Home From the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3),” a master-craft of a play written by Suzan-Lori Parks, directed by Jo Bonney, with groovy musical direction by Steven Bargonetti, manages to properly assert its will in every which way on the observer, evoking anger, sadness, joy, satisfaction, and even laughter.
Playing through May 15th at the Mark Taper Forum on Grand Ave. in Los Angeles, the three-hour extravaganza – about a man named Hero a.ka. Ulysses (Sterling K. Brown) who heavily contemplates going to war as a Confederate on behalf of his Master/Colonel (Michael McKean) in order to reap the promise of his freedom – earns great respect when it’s over.
The play is very much divided into three parts as the title would suggest, each act polished enough to exist as a standalone. In part one, the focus is on whether Hero should risk life or possibly limb vis-à-vis the looming choice to leave his surrogate family, especially girlfriend Penny (Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris) for a brighter future. The mood is pensive, filled with substantive doses of wisdom doled out by a character called The Oldest Old Man (Roger Robinson), who has more or less adopted Hero as his son.
Hero’s peer support system, consisting of Homer (Larry Powell), and his brethren (played by Russell G. Jones, Julian Rozzell Jr., Patrena Murray, and Tonye Patano) do a spectacular job of setting the agitated and ambivalent tone revolving around the question of, should Hero go to war or stay at home? The persona of Homer, who has one foot missing, adds to the merit of the question because he serves as a reminder of what happens to slaves when wistful expectations go awry. Needless to say, the hardened angst of the aggregated moments, coalesced meticulously in part one, seamlessly leads into parts two and three.
Part two is arguably the most well-rounded in the way it is artfully crafted by the three actors who effortlessly hit every note. It is anchored by the Colonel, who is in the middle of nowhere, and is holding captive a soldier from the Union Army (Josh Wingate). Hero, who has now entered the war to do his Colonel’s bidding, is the catalyst of the scene. Essentially, what starts out as the Colonel playfully toying with his Union prey turns into a powerhouse of a scene before seeking forgiveness from the audience for its brutality before offering well-segued humor to round the sharp edges of what has just been witnessed.
McKean is pin-pointedly precise in presenting the unforgiving nature of his character while offering a brusque, and uproariously guilty, self-awareness. Wingate’s physical vulnerability as the captured soldier gives the act a precariousness that Brown expertly utilizes, compelling the audience to feel indignation on his character’s behalf, though never pity. As such, the character of Hero is inhabited with a confidence that is refreshing in the sense that it challenges obstacles but is never victimized by them.
In part three, the truisms of the play are delightfully counterbalanced with a satisfying sense of mirth. Hero, whose whereabouts are unknown until he finally returns home with a new name (Ulysses) finds that Penny may or may not be his significant other anymore, but instead Homer’s. This gives the home stretch of the narrative a palpable intensity as the audience is not sure whether to be hopeful of a Penny-Hero/Ulysses reunion or a Penny-Homer alliance. Is it betrayal? Is it a fair outcome in an unstable time of war? More surprisingly, this push-pull struggle, up to the denouement, is underscored by the surrealism of watching Hero/Ulysses’ dog, Odyssey, be played wonderfully by Patrena Murray (one of four actors cast in a dual role).
Acting almost as a narrator, Murray’s suspenseful speeches, ensconced in a fun furriness, rife with cliff-hangers and bated breath, stir the audience into a frantic frenzy. Her character’s self-referential acknowledgement of the absurdity of the situation, including the fact that suddenly a dog can talk, seems unworkable on the surface, but makes perfect sense in person. When the conclusion of the play is successfully reached, it continues to register memorably on the senses because it combines and utilizes American history, contemporaneity, and escapism with a fruitful and precise flair by everyone involved.
For more information about the Mark Taper Forum and “Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3),” please visit