The Many Faces of War
Lyrical, thought provoking and poignant, the current show from A.C.T. at the Geary Theater is the moving play, Father Comes Home From the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3). Half historical fiction and half references to the Odyssey, this play is timely and interesting, if a little long.
Father Comes Home From the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3) by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks, is really a collection of three loosely-connected one-act plays. Together, they generally follow one man as he enters, fights in and comes home from the American Civil War. Inspired by the Odyssey, this show follows a protagonist aptly named Hero (James Udom) as he struggles with life-changing choices. He is a southern slave offered freedom in return for becoming his master’s valet and fighting for the Confederacy. Throughout the show, Hero struggles with the morality of making choices that help himself but will hurt others and vice versa.
The first section of the show (part one) follows Hero’s arduous decision whether or not to fight against the freedom of slaves in order to obtain his own freedom (although the drama of this scene is somewhat negated by the fact that the audience knows he has to go, in order to come home from the war in accordance with the title). Part two chronicles one pivotal day of the war for Hero where he must decide where his loyalties lie and how that will affect his actions. In part three, he returns from the war (although it is worth noting that he is still not a father). In this section, he must finally face the consequences of the dubious choices he’s made over the course of the war.
The script is lyrical and full of references to America’s continuing race problems. In all, the show is more about the point it’s trying to convey than the story about individuals. Every moment is individually good but, as it clocks in at just over three-hours long, the show could benefit from some heavy-handed editing.
The actors are superb and propel the show through its slow moments. The supporting cast is especially great. Despite these characters’ little time on stage, they each make a deeper impression on the audience than the more indecisive Hero.
Julian Elijah Martinez plays Homer, Hero’s one-footed best friend, with a quiet intensity that makes the character stand out. Even when Martinez isn’t speaking, his performance draws the eye and forces you to really consider Hero’s choices. Homer is an intelligent foil to the protagonist, well written and even better performed. Tom Pecinka also makes a great impact on the story and audience with his performance of Smith, a wounded Union soldier. Pecinka both reinforces and subverts the audience’s expectations of his character with a sincerity that makes his story very real and believable.
Gregory Wallace plays
Odyssey Dog and provides some much-needed comic relief in the third part and the only laugh-out-loud moments of the show. Wallace somehow manages to make a talking dog a believable part of this gritty story and adds a surprising amount of heart to the show as well. To be frank, I’d love to watch the whole show from Odyssey Dog’s perspective; it would be delightful.
But the most amazing performance is given by Eboni Flowers. She plays Penny, Hero’s wife, so compellingly that she practically steals the show. Every time she walks on stage, her performance is raw and emotive. She forces the audience to really consider the emotional impact of the war on the people left behind, not just the men on the battlefield. Penny is also written as the most emotional character in the show, which adds to the impact of Flowers’ performance.
The biggest problem with the show is that it’s just too long. There are very few shows that can justify a run time of over three hours and those are generally action-heavy and/or musicals. The pace of Father Comes Home From the Wars is intentionally more sedate and at times starts to drag. This is not because the story is not interesting or important, but instead because people’s attention spans are short.
The show is really good. It raises important points about both Civil War and modern society while telling a compelling story. The show’s biggest challenge is its length. As an audience member, you have to be prepared for a slow, three-hour history lesson. I would argue that it’s ultimately worth it, but you do have to mentally prepare for this kind of a show.
Father Comes Home From the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3) is playing at A.C.T.’s Geary Theater (415 Geary Street, San Francisco) now through May 20, 2018. Tickets range $15-$110. The show runs about three hours with one intermission.
Photos courtesy of Joan Marcus