Father Comes Home From the Wars (Parts 1, 2, & 3 is an emotionally moving epic about the U.S. Civil War written by Suzan-Lori Parks and presented by Southern Rep Theatre. It borrows themes from classical Greek theater to heighten the drama about a slave named Hero (Sam Malone), who faces an awful dilemma. He can stay and toil on the plantation or take his chances following the colonel (Greg Baber), his master, to the battlefront. Master promised Hero freedom twice before, but perhaps Hero will be rewarded once the Confederacy triumphs. By putting on the gray uniform and cap of the Confederacy, however, Hero takes sides against his enslaved brothers.
"I'll be helping out on the wrong side," he says.
Parks' characters are multidimensional and intelligent, eschewing the stereotypes of uneducated field workers lacking conscience or aspiration. They laugh, philosophize and wager whether Hero will go off to war.
Hero's choice is not a moral decision, but "two sides of the same coin," and neither guarantees happiness. At war, he will risk injury or death and cannot be heroic since he is but a servant who fetches firewood, shines the colonel's boots and cares for his horse. Hero will sleep outside on the ground while the "boss master" enjoys a warm tent. Unaccustomed to making choices, Hero changes his mind often, despite desperate pleas from his lover Penny (Idella Johnson) to stay.
The play opens on a cotton plantation with flickering gaslights glowing beside shanties and trees draped with Spanish moss. Blues guitar and vocals denote an intensely personal story set in the rural South. A group has gathered, waiting for the sun to rise on the day the master will depart. Parks' saga is divided into three parts, depicting slavery before the war, the battlefield and Hero's return home. There is little action, but much discussion, delving into concepts such as loyalty, freedom and the value of one's life.
At one point, the colonel urges a captured Union soldier (Todd d'Amour) to guess Hero's auction block price, taking into account the slave is probably worth less now, having aged. Hero wonders if he will have any value once he is no longer a white man's property. The colonel judges his own worth based on the number of slaves he owns.
"I'm grateful every day I'm white," he brags to both captives.
Terrific ensemble acting and expert stage direction by Valerie Curtis-Newton, founding artistic director for the African-American theater lab The Hansberry Project, make this performance exciting to watch despite lengthy speeches. Using Homer's Odyssey as a blueprint, Parks shows how war devastated eveyone's life, whether rich or poor, black or white. War's participants are permanently changed. Hero betrays his friends. The Union soldier befriends a slave. Penny runs off with another man.
Noteworthy performances include Baber as the depicable master, Robert Diago DoQui as Homer, d'Amour as the disillusioned Union soldier, Martin Bradford as a runaway slave and Zeb Hollins as Odd-See, a faithful dog with mystical powers.