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Entries in on stage (1)

Thursday
Jul122018

character study: "father comes home from the wars (parts 1, 2 & 3)"

About eight years ago, a former colleague initiated his introduction with an assumption about our ancestry based on our shared surname – "you think at some point we were owned by the same people?" I knew his comment, although clearly inappropriate by human resources standards, was an attempt at a connection; a subtle commentary on a history that we will always carry on our backs and in our hearts. X, which as irony would have it is his nickname, still refers to me as his cousin when we occasionally communicate via social media. Because whether or not we’re connected by blood, oftentimes shades of you become your community.

The horror that is slavery needs no introduction. Placing a monetary value on human beings as a viable trade is a historical fact, as is the transition from plantations to prisons with Jim Crow absolution. Goodman Theatre's recently closed production of, Suzan-Lori Parks' Civil War epic, Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3) directed by Niegel Smith is not just art for art’s sake. Parks curates pain and promise through a lyrical narrative of voices that scream obvious truths and foreshadows subtle consequences. This is the story of Hero who joins the Confederate army at the behest of his Colonel with freedom casually offered as active duty incentive. Hero is a contradiction. His betrayal of his lover Penny and his childhood friend Homer seems to barely disturb his conscience, yet the idea of escaping enslavement is equated with theft and this drives his sense of virtue. Has the cruelty of circumstance made civility and decency a detriment to survival?

Smith's interpretation afforded a symbolic oppression as the foundation to Parks' prose – the stage was structurally transformed into a Confederate flag and the enslaved characters were costumed in prison orange. This offered any audience member in a self-professed hashtag state of wokeness an opportunity to reevaluate Hero's "choices," as it seemed hypocritically effortless to view him as disloyal, self-indulgent, and arrogant. The irony of Hero wanting legacy in a system designed to erase your existence. And how daunting it will be when he realizes he could choose countless names and brides and he may never know lineage.

The oppressed often find that there is a peaceful solitude in pain; the blurred brushstrokes that issue picturesque promises of civil disobedience become a beautiful palette that chases the darkness. The reality is that woeful prayers inadvertently become whispered pleas and you start to recognize that this isn't the silencing of the masses. What you're hearing is the initial call of the resistance. I imagine, at one point, there was solace in that melody. Then history in its politically convenient and fabricated rhetoric is embraced with diluted fondness as opposed to a mirrored reflection of shame. We've come full circle – the brutality in acquiring stolen land, the moral justifications behind people as commodities, misplaced children as terror tactics, customer service support via the police department, gasping for justice, hoods but not hoodies. This is where we are, this is who we've always been. Hands up. Guns drawn. Take a knee. Don't shoot. Freedom was never free...

Photography x Liz Lauren :: Courtesy of Goodman Theatre.

Photograph One: Kamal Angelo Bolden (Hero), Aimé Donna Kelly (Penny), Michael Aaron Pogue (Fourth) and Ronald L. Conner (Third) in the Chicago premiere of Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3) by Suzan-Lori Parks, directed by Niegel Smith (May 25 – June 24, 2018). 

Photograph Two: Sydney Charles (Second), Jacqueline Williams (Leader), Ernest Perry Jr. (The Oldest Old Man), Michael Aaron Pogue (Fourth), Ronald L. Conner (Third) and Kamal Angelo Bolden (Hero) in the Chicago premiere of Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3) by Suzan-Lori Parks, directed by Niegel Smith (May 25 – June 24, 2018). GoodmanTheatre.org/Father