“Father Comes Home from the Wars, Parts 1, 2 & 3”
Yale Repertory Theatre
Suzan-Lori Parks’ sprawling, epic play, “Father Comes Home from the Wars, Parts 1, 2 & 3” is currently receiving an entirely superlative production at Yale Repertory Theatre. Running over three hours long, this show maintains interest from beginning to end and the cast is simply superb. Director Liz Diamond has done a Herculean job staging this work and it’s especially nice that music is incorporated into the play, as well.
Diamond also works wonderfully with her designers and “Father Comes Home from the Wars” most definitely has a specific “look” that is in perfect accordance with Suzan-Lori Parks’ play. Even if one might be put off by the sheer length and ambition of “Father Comes Home from the Wars, Parts 1, 2 & 3,” Yale Repertory Theatre’s production is definitely worth attending and proves to be quite a satisfying experience.
Among the many assets in this show are the excellent performances by the entire cast. There is really only one character who is featured in all three parts of this play, and that is the character of Hero (later to be renamed Ulysses). As played by the charismatic James Udom, Hero really anchors the show, as one follows his journey throughout the play.
“Father Comes Home from the Wars” is set in the South, in 1862, and Hero is actually the slave of “The Colonel” (the fine Dan Hiatt). In the opening scene in the play, some of the other characters (also all slaves) are taking bets on whether Hero will follow his “master” into the war or whether he will stay behind.
James Udom is terrific as Hero and he is surrounded by a cast of equals. As the woman who loves him, Penny, Eboni Flowers is quite touching, especially as one watches her yearn for a man who may never come back to her. Some of the other performers play dual roles in the show, in Parts 1 and 3, but there is little confusion since “Father Comes Home from the Wars” is coherent and really all of a piece.
The trio of Chivas Michael, Rotimi Agbabiaka, and Safiya Fredericks all work well together, both individually and as a group, as they each take on two characters in the play. Also standing out, in the opening part, is Steven Anthony Jones, who is quite funny playing “The Oldest Old Man.” In addition, Erron Crawford is good as the character simply named “Fourth.”
The middle section of “Father Comes Home from the Wars” is significant because it features two Caucasian actors, both of whom are excellent. As “The Colonel,” Dan Hiatt is full of fire and cruelty, but his performance also displays layers underneath. Tom Pecinka, who was so good in Hartford Stage’s recent production of “Cloud 9,” nicely plays Smith, a Union Soldier who has been captured. Pecinka, mostly seen trapped in a cage, proves to have more in common with Hero than one can at first see and the bond that Pecinka forms with James Udom’s Hero is unexpectedly moving.
There are two other actors in the play who also make significant contributions. Julian Elijah Martinez is heartbreaking as Homer, a man suffering from unrequited love, and Martinez makes as large an impression in the show as Hero. Still, as strong as the rest of the cast is, it really is Gregory Wallace, playing Odyssey Dog, who manages to steal the show. Dressed in a furry brown jacket, Wallace earns big laughs portraying this canine and he also brings welcome moments of comedy to a mostly serious play.
It would be remiss not to mention one other actor who shadows all of the other performers, namely Martin Luther McCoy as “The Musician,” who plays a guitar beautifully throughout. In addition to eliciting such impressive performances from her actors, director Liz Diamond works wonders with scenic designer Riccardo Hernandez, whose set design is striking and simply awe-inspiring. Just is good is the contribution of lighting designer Yi Zhao, who effectively uses light and shadow in each scene, and Sarah Nietfeld has provided the appropriate costumes for the cast.
“Father Comes Home from the Wars, Parts 1, 2, & 3,” at Yale Repertory Theatre, is a daunting and formidable play that may be too much for some audiences. Still, if one is open to going along with Suzan-Lori Parks’ lengthy and full-bodied work, there are most definitely rewards to be had.
“Father Comes Home from the Wars: Parts 1, 2, & 3” continues performances at Yale Repertory Theatre through April 7, 2018. For tickets, please visit www.yalerep.org or call the box office at 203-432-1234.
Photo: James Udom
Photo by Joan Marcus