For this on your own activity, you will respond to different types of texts and criticisms on Father Comes Home from the Wars, Parts 1, 2 & 3.
As you move through the excerpts, videos, and articles below, take notes on anything you find interesting, surprising, or would like to explore further, either with the group, or in future writing assignments. In your notes that you post here, keep track of specific passages or elements that you’re responding to, so that you can easily refer to it in our class discussions.
1) Read through the following excerpts from Toni Morrison and Todd London:
Morrison, in her 1979 commencement address at Barnard College (“Cinderella’s Stepsisters”), told the assembled graduates: “You are moving in the direction of freedom and the function of freedom is to free somebody else. You are moving toward self-fulfillment and the consequences of that fulfillment should be to discover that there is something just as important as you are and that just as important thing may be your stepsister. We are women and we are human, and as human beings we are also the only ones we know and as far as I can tell, we are, as human beings, the only moral inhabitants of the globe. There aren’t any others.”
From London, “American Playwriting and the Now New,” Theatre History Studies, Volume 36, 2017: 286-298:
Suffice to say, not all new stories are new at all. Some have been knocking at the door to be heard, and some have been previously told from a single, dominant point of view. The reclamation of stories is a major strain in contemporary playwriting. What’s new now often stems from a deep engagement and revision of history. In Suzan-Lori Parks’s Father Comes Home from the Wars, Parts 1, 2, & 3, the writer draws on structural elements from TheOdyssey for a story of slave involvement in the Civil War. It’s a heartbreaking work, in which the uncertain promise of freedom becomes the Hero’s incentive for serving his master in the fight to save slavery.
In Part 2, the hero, named Hero, is left alone with Smith, a captured Northern soldier, a free black passing as white:
SMITH: This world is such a mess. How’s a Colored gonna make his way? Seems like we either get sold off by somebody or sell out our own selves. You could be bought and sold and so could I.
HERO: That’ll end with Freedom.
- SMITH: But what if it don’t somehow? Sometimes I get the feeling that the heart of the thing won’t change easy or quick. Cause of the way we were bought and brought over here in the first place. Maybe even with Freedom, that mark, huh, that mark of the marketplace, it will always be on us. And so maybe we will always be twisting and turning ourselves into something that is going to bring the best price. That’s the way we were born into this, so is it always gonna be like that for us, slavery or not? Freedom or not? Are we ever going to get us a better place in the marketplace?
Freedom when it does come comes with trauma and the damage of both slavery and war—a freedom that is anything but free.
- We hear this story with twenty-first-century ears, in a world of marketplace and the mass incarceration of black American men. We hear the story of the Civil War not as a tale of triumph and emancipation, as it’s usually told, but as one stage of African America’s tortuous and stumbling odyssey toward an elusive and always incomplete freedom.
For all its urgency, dramatic power, and structural pull, story is, even in Aristotelian terms, only one element among many. Contemporary playwriting has long fought against story’s dominance, struggling to raise up language, spectacle, song, debate—to train audiences to see the making of the work, its formal structures, its politics and art, separate from its narrative accessibility, human interest, or “relatability,” a word that has seeped in from TV. The fight goes on to wrest story from the center of the spectacle” (London 289-90).
3) Read “What’s the Big Idea,” in The Writer. When Father Comes Home was in rehearsal and soon to open, Parks had an “aha” moment about the play’s ending. How did she revise it? (The Public Theatre montage shows some of that scene.)
5) Watch the following two clips from the Goodman Theatre (Chicago) production ofFather Comes Home, summer 2018:
Read Laura Dougherty’s review of the Public Theater’s production (Theatre Journal, October 2015).