Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3)

A slave's Odyssey


The best plays shift perceptions. And so it is with this gripping triptych set during the American Civil War by Suzan-Lori Parks. It follows the fortunes of a black slave called Hero (Steve Toussaint) who is taken to war by his white owner, the Colonel, and returns home to find that the people he left behind are as changed as he is.

The playlets - lasting about three hours in total - are the first tranche of what American writer Parks intends to be a nine-part narrative. Don't be daunted by that, though, nor by the subject and the fact that Parks's inspiration is to some extent Homer's Odyssey (both these names are allocated to other characters here, including a talking dog). In this first section of the intended epic, each part serves as a gripping, bite-sized act accompanied by the southern blues strains of Parks's own songs, performed by musical director and acoustic guitarist Steven Bargonetti.

Jo Bonney's production - first staged at New York's Public Theatre - expertly uses the music to pace not only the drama as a whole, but even the rate at which dialogue is spoken.

Parks reveals the complex moral dilemmas of those whose lives have been denied choice. It's as funny as it is disturbing, and uplifting as the brutality is shocking.

I know we shouldn't need such reminders but, because the show is so modern in its take on American civil rights, after seeing it I will feel even greater outrage when I hear of the next unarmed black person to be shot by the police in America.

I can't wait for the next six parts.

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