‘Father Comes Home From the Wars’ and an Absent Freedom

This piece was co-written by Chicago actor/director Wardell Julius Clark and Regina Victor.

Father Comes Home From The Wars opened at the Goodman Theatre in what can only be categorized as a seismic explosion of a production, excellent on all fronts.

Under the persuasively specific direction of Niegel Smith, Suzan-Lori Parks’ three-part black civil war saga spilled over the audience like the heightened spirits of our ancestors that loom at our backs to remind us of the past and question our future. It is inspired undoubtedly by the great Greek dramas of the past, with character names like Homer (who is given a fiery portrayal by Jaime Lincoln Smith), Oddsee (Odyssey Dog) and Penny (Penelope).

The central question of the three part play is What is Freedom? Who can attain it? And is Freedom even enough after the poison of white supremacy and systemic oppression, have guided, controlled, and infiltrated every area of our lives? Parks struggles with the predicament of the colonized mind by setting this epic during the Civil War. The main character Hero, aptly named for his journey, wants to escape slavery and sees an opportunity to do so by accompanying his master to war. The problem is, he’d be fighting for the Confederacy. Hero’s moral dilemma launches the audience on a journey of self-reflection and invites us to ponder who and what we’d sacrifice for our own freedom.  Hero, played by Kamal Angelo Bolden, gives what can only be called a Tour de force performance as he decides whether or not to follow his Boss Master the colonel into the Confederate Army, having been promised his freedom in return.

“The Chorus of Less Than Desirable Slaves,” on the plantation who try to help Hero make his choice are Leader (Jacqueline Williams), the oldest old man (Ernest Perry, Jr.), Second, (Sydney Charles), Third (Ron Conner), and Fourth (Michael Pogue). Each ensemble member deserves to be listed for their spectacular performance and their part in setting up the world and style of the play we are about to see. Linda Cho’s elegant costuming is simple yet instructive as patterns literally tell us who onstage is cut from which cloth. The play opens with Leader giving Second a hilariously long tirade demonstrating the breath control of a classically skilled actor and letting us know just how vast the journey is that we’re going to embark upon. Sydney Charles presents male as Second, and interesting directorial choice that establishes her as a versatile performer and Chicago staple. 

In part 1, “The Measure of a Man” we are made aware that Hero has committed a grevious betrayal, and in a staging that is totally unique to black greek culture and african roots, the chorus began stepping choreography that shows the extent of the betrayal. Each person has their own rhythm, fitting into a whole, from which Hero is painfully excluded.  It is one of several glimpses we get throughout the night, that this production is told through our unique black lens and resonates for us deeply and personally. It is the direction of Niegel Smith that gives this play its vulnerability and its dignity. Through a use of gesture he lets us see the unspoken language that we imagine slaves may have had as they navigated a world where they could not always speak their mind. This language of gesture reappears through a more starkly structured Greek chorus of runaway slaves consisting of Tyrone Phillips, Nicole Michelle Haskins, and Bernard Gilbert. Haskins and Phillips are stars to watch that have been seen all over Chicago, and Gilbert recently had a formidable turn in Northlight Theatre’s Skeleton Crew. Honorable mention also goes to BrittneyLove Smith’s hilarious and heartwarming portrayal of Odyssey Dog, her specific physical choices and Cho’s costuming indicate a dog without taking away the dignity of the actor.

It is rare that we see a production with so many fine Black actors of all ages.  There is one choice to have a Black character portrayed by a white man which, though it’s requested by the playwright, ultimately made that piece of the narrative disingenuous for this writer (Regina Victor). Otherwise, the casting of this production creates hope for the future of Black artists in Chicago, and acknowledges the legacy of fine work that has been done before we were even a thought.  This production of Father Comes Home From the Wars is an ambitious and stunning piece of our legacy, and you should not miss it.

Photos by Liz Lauren
Director – Niegel Smith
Playwright – Suzan-Lori Parks
Hero – Kamal Angelo Bolden
Colonel – William Dick
Penny – Aimé Donna Kelly
Homer – Jaime Lincoln Smith
Narrator / Musician – Melody Angel
Second – Sydney Charles
Third – Ronald L. Conner
Runaway – James Bernard Gilbert II
Runaway – Nicole Michelle Haskins
Runaway – Tyrone Phillips
Ernest Perry Jr. – The Oldest Old Man
Fourth – Michael Aaron Pogue
Odyssey Dog – BrittneyLove Smith
Smith – Demetrios Troy
Leader – Jacqueline Williams

BIAS ALERT: We Black, so we know alladem.


For Youth Inquiry’s ‘This Boat Called My Body’

For Youth Inquiry’s (FYI) world premiere multidisciplinary performance This Boat Called My Body was created by a team of devisors and youth who have shared their abortion stories with the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health (ICAH). The play invites audience members to sail with Jane, played by Elena Victoria Feliz, as she navigates the troubled waters of seeking an abortion at 16.  This play loudly and publicly confronts the stigma around abortions as well as the clinical, legislative and personal challenges and hurdles that young people face along the way. Continue reading “For Youth Inquiry’s ‘This Boat Called My Body’”

Ike Holter’s ‘The Light Fantastic’ is Horror-Comedy at its Smartest

The Light Fantastic combines Ike Holter’s brilliantly funny writing with formidable production design that makes the play, directed by Gus Menary, work on several levels. It’s a deliciously spooky thriller with a reverse Faustian twist. It’s an endearing romantic comedy. It a clever send-up of horror genre tropes (I likely missed five references for every one that I caught). And it offers up a refreshingly empowering narrative that hinges on female agency as opposed to the female helplessness the genre has long relied upon. The play also has a strong moral point of view as it touches on subjects as wide ranging as bullying, homophobia, taking advantage of your friends and the grave error of ignoring your mother’s phone calls. On a more philosophical level this play is about characters asserting the right to face death on their own terms as they grapple with Kantian questions of moral duty. Continue reading “Ike Holter’s ‘The Light Fantastic’ is Horror-Comedy at its Smartest”

Reinvention and Catastrophe Thrill in ‘Girl Found’

This review is penned by Logan McCullom, alumni of The Key: Young Critics Mentorship Program. 

The lights had not been up for more than five minutes and already I knew this play was something else, something that was not being advertised, of course. Something dark. I find it hard to produce an effective horror play, and while Girl Found at Idle Muse is not one, it certainly had the potential to be because of its tendency to chill and thrill. Girl Found kept me on the edge of my seat as I tried to decipher what was not said but meant, and what was not felt but forgotten.  Continue reading “Reinvention and Catastrophe Thrill in ‘Girl Found’”

Nostalgia Consumes in a Fiery ‘Buried Child’

“I thought I was dying but I  just lost my voice.” – Tilden, Sam Shepard’s Buried Child.

This line perfectly describes the devastating loneliness that reverberates throughout Sam Shephard’s Buried Child, currently playing at Writers Theatre. The large house is empty at top of show except for the elderly Dodge (Larry Yando) who is coughing and watching TV all alone as rain falls outside. Dodge looks up at the roof to listen to the rain, which is wonderful because there is no roof in the living room of Jack Magaw’s set. In fact, the entire front of the home is excavated like an ancient archaeological site, preserved so we can see the relics inside. Adding to this jagged, exposed feeling is a massive crack that runs through the middle of the floor. Largely ignored by the family that resides in the house, I could not help but notice that the two outsiders in the play either noticed or tripped over the crack. Continue reading “Nostalgia Consumes in a Fiery ‘Buried Child’”

Brett Neveu’s ‘To Catch a Fish’ Dramatizes a Real Life Tale of Entrapment

Brett Neveu’s world premiere TO CATCH A FISH, developed at Timeline and directed by Ron OJ Parson, takes on the morally repugnant practice of police entrapment. Neveu takes us to the peaceful Milwaukee neighborhood of Riverwest where in 2012 officers from the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms Bureau set-up a phony shop with an aim to lure the community into selling guns by offering to purchase them at triple their street value. This perverse incentive created a gun market where there wasn’t one. People started buying guns at local stores to turn around and sell them to the ATF, even going so far as to dredge up antiques and family heirlooms to cash in on the offer. Later, community members entrapped by this scheme were rounded up to face criminal charges. Continue reading “Brett Neveu’s ‘To Catch a Fish’ Dramatizes a Real Life Tale of Entrapment”

Steppenwolf Fellows Present: Crafting a Cohort

Steppenwolf’s Fellowship Cohort Presents: Crafting a Cohort
Monday, April 30 at 7pm.

Free Community Event Explores the Question, “How do we, as POC and queer artists create space for ourselves in institutions where we are often ‘the only one’?”

CHICAGO (April 24, 2018) –Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s 2017/18 Multicultural Fellows are proud to present Crafting a Cohort, a free event that aims to unite people of color and members of the queer community (POC/Queer Folx) in various levels of theatre career tracks by providing a space for discussion and connection. This event is curated by the 2017/18 Steppenwolf Multicultural Fellows cohort. The Steppenwolf Professional Leadership Program Fellowship is for early-career people of color working in various theatre disciplines and provides paid professional development opportunities both in and out of Steppenwolf Theatre. Jackie Taylor, Executive Artistic Director of Black Ensemble Theatre, will deliver the keynote address. This event takes place on Monday, April 30th from 7-9pm at the Merle Reskin Garage (1624 N. Halsted St.). Admission is free and snacks and drinks will be provided. RSVP by clicking here. Continue reading “Steppenwolf Fellows Present: Crafting a Cohort”

‘A Story Told in Seven Fights’ Investigates the Neo-Futurists Founding Myths

The energy at the Neo-Futurarium holds a lot of history for Chicago audiences and just being in a space where you’ve come to expect the unexpected generates anticipation. A Story Told in Seven Fights begins with a comic teaser fight in the lobby as the audience is waiting to be ushered into the theater. This cold open establishes the show’s major theme: the relationship between performer and performance. The show, a devised work created by Trevor Dawkins and directed by Tony Santiago, explores the explosive birth of Dadaism and its later clash with Surrealism. The throughline is an exploration of what founders contribute to a movement. The play asks: at what point does a movement become bigger than its founding vision and, perhaps also, at what point does a movement morph into something entirely different? Continue reading “‘A Story Told in Seven Fights’ Investigates the Neo-Futurists Founding Myths”

White Critics: Please Stop Using the N-Word

What is wrong with white critics? I really want to know. Have you all lost your mind?? When critic Katy Walsh took a loss and set a dignified example for why the n-word is hurtful, apologized, and extricated herself from criticism to learn, were you listening?

In the space of a singular calendar year, we have had two white Chicago critics use the n-word in a review. Yesterday Justin Hayford put this sentence in a review of Court Theatre’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and legitimately thought it was a good idea: “At worst, it will leave him with a cracked skull, tormented children, and a wife who’ll come to believe he’s nothing but a n*gger.” (This is censored, the uncensored photo is below.) Now, I don’t know if Hayford wanted to get into a fight when he published this review, but I am a non-violent person and when I first read this sentence I was ready to throw hands. I immediately talked to some artists working on the play to get their thoughts. Continue reading “White Critics: Please Stop Using the N-Word”

‘Surely Goodness and Mercy’ Showcases A Young Boy’s Staggering Act of Love

Chisa Hutchinson’s intimate four character drama Surely Goodness and Mercy at Redtwist Theatre takes on the difficult subject of child abuse and makes children its heroes. During a month when we are seeing young people in the news rising up to speak out against violence it’s inspiring to see the story of a young boy who is able to escape the violence in his own home while doing good for others. Continue reading “‘Surely Goodness and Mercy’ Showcases A Young Boy’s Staggering Act of Love”