NYU Black Renaissance Noire Fall 2015 Volume 15.2 - Page 35

Ms. Parks’ Father Comes Home from the Wars is her latest dramatic attempt to reconcile the privation of black experience with American history. It is a puffed-up spin off a skeletal meditation on the unwelcoming home from the war of a father in 365 Plays/365 Days. Yet, it has been unanimously acclaimed by critics as an achievement distinguished by its capacity to deflect pain and induce welcoming mirth. Fun, no doubt, was had by all. One reviewer noted that the “haunting work is funny and tragic, whimsical and lacerating, poetic and poignant, navigating its radical tonal shifts with fluidity and grace.2” A reviewer for the Broadway.com blog adored Ms. Parks’ ability to “mash up comedy and tragedy, high culture (lyrical language) and low (street talk), traditional storytelling (a Greek styled chorus) and magical realism (a talking dog) to create a truly original take on slavery…a brazenly post-modern work that seeks to debunk the long held myths about that painful period of American history and about race relations in general.” The supercilious notion that Ms. Parks has achieved an “original take” on the widely acknowledged agonies experienced by Africans who were forced into slavery is a testament to the limits of the reviewer’s insight, if not otherwise indifference, about the peculiar institution of slavery. The fatuous assumption here is that the pain and suffering of the slave experience would be more palatable when subsumed in mythic formulations that deflect our attention away from the severity of the experience. Ms. Parks’ obfuscating take on the harsh historical record of slavery is more novelty than originality, not hardly the uniqueness, or otherwise inventive exposition of the slave reality in Amiri Baraka’s galvanic ritual drama, Slaveship, or even Robert Lowell’s poetic dramatization of Melville’s Benito Cereno. Further, it is ludicrous that the reviewer would pompously arrogate that the vernacular expression of the Blues or Rap would not be considered “high” lyricism, but rather simply be relegated to “low” street talk. Surprisingly, Marilyn Stasio, a very astute critic in earlier days, echoed the chorus of critical praise in Variety when she observed how Ms. Parks “merrily layers the multiple plots, themes, character models and narrative style of many sources” with a language that is “at once classical and colloquial, and very musical,” an “off-beat” stylization with costumes that “are a mashup of different historical periods and fashion modes, with plantation slaves wearing reconstituted sneakers and cargo pants along with their work clothes” and concluding that the “show is just fun to watch.3” “Mashup” appears to be the operative methodology for Ms. Parks’ puckish, if not otherwise frivolous reduction of the monumentality of classical mythology to pathos, thereby blunting the audience’s confrontation with the pathos located in the raw edges of slavery. One reviewer of Father Comes Home from the Wars observed how Parks “impishly blends contemporary and period styles” to dramatize her “seriocomic meditation on liberty, loyalty, and identity.” Only Topsy, the mischievous piccaninny of Uncle Toms’ Cabin, who has been described as a cunning “funny specimen,” could have a more perverse pleasure in reinventing the hardship of her condition into a moment of mirthful amusement, largely because she was untutored in the moral corruption of her servitude and had no sense of her history. When asked about her origin, Topsy replies shrewdly that she does not know, “I jes grow’d,” implying that she did not have a history beyond what she had experienced in the house of the Master. While gushing approval for the mollifying vision of Father Comes Home from the Wars, a reviewer for Entertainment Weekly attributed the “force” of Ms. Parks’ “dramatic power” to the elevation of “themes with echoes of classic literatu re while at the same time doubling down on comedy.” During slavery there was never time for comic relief. 33 with a Death by Chocolate Souffle’, an appetizing morsel of black life from her 365 DAYS. How easy it is to consume such an amorphous work when reviewers, who never took it seriously enough to unpack its intention, valorize it as an artistic achievement for popular taste. BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE k Part 1: A Measure of a Man.