How does a man define his own worth?
That is the question at the core of “Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3),” a play set in the Civil War-era and running this month at Open Stage of Harrisburg.
“Father Comes Home” focuses on Hero, a slave in Texas, who has to choose between staying home with his wife and joining his master and fighting for the South in return for his freedom. The play offers a moving insight into the epic journey of a slave coming to terms with what it means to be free—and if freedom is even desired.
Leonard Dozier, who returns to Open Stage of Harrisburg in the role of Hero, explains why the focal character struggles with the possibility of freedom.
“Being a lifelong slave, slavery is all that is known,” he said. “He equates slavery with value—he is worth something. If he is free, he’s free to do what? Free from value? Freedom is the unknown. Freedom represents no value. Freedom represents losing all sense of one’s self.”
Written by Suzan-Lori Parks, the first African-American woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, “Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2, & 3)” is the first three of a nine-play cycle, which begins with the Civil War and ends in modern times.
Dozier is excited by the concept of the show.
“Each of these ‘acts’ represents a totally different thematic concept,” he said. “Each part is really its own play. I think it’s neat—the idea that the audience is watching this ‘miniseries’ in one night and yet it moves fluently, poetically, historically, dramatically.”
The first part of the play, “The Measure of a Man,” focuses on the difficult choice facing Hero. Should he fight for the South and trust that his master will deliver on his promise of freedom or stand his moral ground and stay at home with his wife? The question—and which answer Hero should choose—is discussed, in detail, by Hero and his fellow slaves. Part 1 tackles the personal effects and impossible situation of slavery head-on.
In the second part of the play, “A Battle in the Wilderness,” Hero faces a white, imprisoned Union soldier who is guarded by his master, now a colonel in the Confederate army. The plight of the slave is discussed both by the Colonel and his prisoner, named Smith—and by Smith and Hero. Hero finds himself examining his self-worth, unable to comprehend a life in which he’s free, while Smith works to open his mind to the possibility.
The third part, “The Union of My Confederate Parts,” returns to Texas, where Hero’s wife and Homer, a fellow slave, are harboring three runaway slaves. Hero’s return is preceded by the tale of the last year and a half from the perspective of Odd-See, Hero’s dog. Only Hero is now Ulysses, having changed his name on his journey. With his trek complete, and the Emancipation Proclamation in place, Hero-turned-Ulysses still struggles to imagine a future where he is free.
The themes of the show are timeless.
“I do think, particularly with this political and cultural climate we’re in, we’re very much revisiting the divide this country has known,” said Dozier. “That division magnified against the backdrop of the Civil War will provide real food for thought as to how we can potentially avoid another one.”
At times deeply moving and unexpectedly comedic, “Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3)” is a play resonant throughout time, tackling issues that have carried through from the Civil War to today.
“If you love a war story, a love story, this is a play to see,” Dozier said. “It really paints an alternative view of history that is provoking and challenging.”
“Father Comes Home” also features Tanisha Hollis, Louis Riley III, Mark Douglas Cuddy, Aaron Bomar, Ciera Spencer, Diane L. Hetes, Caliph White, Ron Chapel and Jedidiah Franklin.
“Father Comes Home” was named the winner of the 2015 Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama and was a finalist for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
“Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3)” runs Feb. 3 to 26 at Open Stage of Harrisburg, 25 N. Court St., Harrisburg. Tickets and information are available at www.openstagehbg.com.
Upcoming Theater Events
Open Stage of Harrisburg
“Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2, & 3)”
A new play by Suzan-Lori Parks
Feb. 3 to 26
Studio Workshop at Open Stage
Free evenings of one-act plays
March 8 & 9 at 7:30 p.m.
No reservations required
Sundae Best Variety Show
March 11 & 12 at 7:30 p.m.
At Open Stage of Harrisburg
“The Diary of Anne Frank”
Open Stage’s 18th annual production
At Whitaker Center
Sunday, March 12 at 2 p.m.