Once, Hamlet asked us: “What a piece of work is a man?” For slave protagonist Hero in Suzan-Lori Parks’ Civil War theatrical odyssey, Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2&3), the question – though not easier – is perhaps simpler: What is a man really worth? What’s more: Can you put a price on freedom? Can you really choose your own identity? Little plays in themselves, Parts 1, 2 and 3 are haunted by the possible answers to these questions, as Hero must decide whether to join his Confederate master in the war – in exchange for a possibly empty promise of freedom – or stay behind, flanked by the woman and the people he loves.

This story of survival, loyalty and integrity (in a world where it often seems that the first comes at the cost of the latter two) jumps off the page, guided by Parks’s elegant lyricism and poetic language. You don’t just come into her world, you are surrounded by it. As Parks puts it, “it’s not a History Channel piece.” It isn’t. Father Comes Home is a look back at one of this country’s most devastating human violations with unapologetic hindsight, one that offers jarringly incomplete answers to poignant questions, particularly when reflecting on the implications for the very recent present. It is one of those plays that gets trapped inside your body, builds you up, breaks you down, sits on your bones – and stays there.

Ida Biering, publishing intern

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