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FROM THIS EPISODE

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

It's not shocking that the Taper's production of Suzan-Lori Parks' Father Comes Home From the Wars ( Parts 1, 2, and 3) is a great play, what's shocking is how quickly it takes you there.

Mark it.

Minutes into the play her poetry, her language, and this remarkably committed and talented cast transports you to a different time and place that's as familiar as a Greek tragedy and as foreign as our own country's past.

It'd be easy to call Father Comes Home from the Wars a period piece. It is, after all set in the south during the Civil War. We're on a plantation before day break. The question at hand is whether Hero is going to join the Master in the war. It's a tough question for a man, it's an especially tough question for a black man because he'd be fighting for the South. About half the slaves are betting he will and half that he won’t. It's a big question. It's a bit of dramatic irony that the Master offers Hero his freedom if he goes off to fight against the very idea of his freedom. That's the complex knot Ms. Parks is tying with her story.

Mark it, because while it's undeniably a period piece, the old man, Hero's adopted father, seems to be wearing Crocs. And he's not the only one in modern footwear. These characters are walking through the present as they tell this story of the past. The play almost effortlessly grounds itself in both the physicality of the here and now and of a distant time. It's part of the play's profound and disturbing magic. Time is slippery. There's a temptation, because the story is so good and the questions so classical, to slip into thinking it's talking about those universal questions -- those grand truths that the Greeks tackled and that haunt Shakespeare.

But mark it. This is a classically American play, these are tragically American problems.

The day I saw the play, the most emailed story from the New York Times was headlined "272 Slaves were sold to save Georgetown."

Mark it.

It would be nice if we could all just agree Suzan-Lori Parks had written a great period piece about the past, but you'd have to ignore more than that pair of Crocs. You'd have to ignore the political echoes created when the Colonel proudly proclaims, "I am grateful every day that God made me white." That's pretty tough to ignore.

It's not that Ms. Parks is unaware of the pull of the Greeks. After all we've got characters named Hero . . . and Homer and Ulysses, but at the same time in Act Three the classical "messenger" speech reporting back from the war is delivered by not a man but a dog, and a funny one at that. Just in case it hasn't sunk in, that dog, Hero's dog, is named Odyssey.

Mark it.

We're in the past. We're in the now and we're asking that all too American question, "What price freedom?"

If you only have time for one play this spring, this is it.

Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2, & 3) plays at the Mark Taper Forum downtown through May 15.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.


Running time: 2 hours and 50 minutes with one intermission.

Photo: (L-R) Larry Powell and Sterling K. Brown in Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3) at the Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum. (Craig Schwartz)

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