>>> Review: Father Comes Home From The Wars (Parts I, II, III)

FATHER COMES HOME FROM THE WARS (PARTS I, II, III) by Suzan-Lori Parks (Soulpepper). At the Young Centre (55 Tank.


FATHER COMES HOME FROM THE WARS (PARTS I, II, III) by Suzan-Lori Parks (Soulpepper). At the Young Centre (55 Tank House). Runs to September 1. $32-$96. 416-866-8666, soulpepper.ca. See listing. Rating: NNNN

Suzan-Lori Parks isnt afraid of the epic. Thankfully, her subject for the nine-part Father Comes Home From The Wars is suitably massive: slavery, the Civil War and its aftermath, right up to the present day.

Its impossible to judge the cycle as a whole until its completed, but based on the works first three parts, it will be a staggering achievement, on a par with Kushners Angels In America.

Like Kushner, Parks uses myth and fantasy to comment on the legacy of history, although at least in these earlier works she relies less on historical figures than on literary homages theres a Greek chorus of slaves, and some of the main characters are named Homer, Hero and Penny (for Penelope, obviously) later, Hero renames himself Ulysses.

Heros (Dion Johnstone) odyssey begins on a Texas plantation, where he strikes an agreement with his master to fight in the war on the Confederate side in exchange for his freedom. The second play, the strongest, shows him and his Colonel master (Oliver Dennis) with a Yankee prisoner (Gregory Prest). And in the third play, Hero returns home, where his wife, Penny (Lisa Berry), his friend Homer (Daren A. Herbert) and other slaves are about to escape.

While each play has a different tone and dramatic feel theres lots of exposition in the first, and there are asides and an adorable talking dog (Peter Fernandes) in the third theyre unified by the theme of freedom. Just what is it? How do you achieve it? And once youve got it, what then?

Director Weyni Mengesha provides a clear and persuasive production, although that first section, almost a prologue, is tough to get through. (Perhaps after Parks finishes the cycle, shell go back and tweak the earlier parts.)

Parks has also written songs to help bridge the plays, and Divine Browns soulful voice and presence work to create a sense of cohesion on Lorenzo Savoinis unobtrusive set.

The actors mostly do fine work, although Herbert initially struggles to define his Homer. Johnstones scenes with Dennis are among the plays strongest and most disturbing, particularly when the Colonel demonstrates his power over Hero by telling him what hes worth and asking him to undo himself. Dennis, a naturally likeable actor, delivers his most chilling performance to date when his character thanks God for being born white.

And in the final play, Johnstones newly named Ulysses has gained authority and experience, having learned how empty white mens promises can be.

I cant wait for the next three plays.

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