NYU Black Renaissance Noire Fall 2015 Volume 15.2 - Page 36

PHOTOGRAPHY BY EVGENIA ELISEEVA COURTESTY OF WWW.AMERICANREPERTORYTHEATER.ORG 34 When did accounts of slavery become a source of entertainment? Perhaps it was George Wolfe’s 1986 acerbic satire, Colored Museum, a review of 11 vignettes/“exhibits” that deftly exposed many of the sacred cows and foibles of black experience to ridicule. The most enlightening exhibit being The Last Mama-on-the-Couch, a sharply focused parody on the formulaic domestic dramas fashioned after A Raisin in the Sun. Yet, it was possibly the mordant, near-heretical initiating “exhibit,” Git-on-Board, which has a flight attendant exhort the audience to “Fasten Shackles” as they prepare for a “celebrity” Middle Passage, crossing on a slave-ship from Ivory Coast to Savannah, Georgia, that opened the flood gates for future contemporary disparagement of slavery. Yet, from the lens of my historical gaze, until the torment of Jesus at Calvary or the Jewish Holocaust in the Auschwitz gas extermination camps become the source of amusement, slavery can never be viewed as anything less than the site of an institutional Evil that was an abomination for millions of African people. It just ain’t funny! I have long been baffled by the praise heaped upon Ms. Parks for the perceptible mutilation of black males located in works such as The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World where the Black Man With Watermelon figure dies multiple deaths while negotiating an assortment of black stereotypes; and her Pulitzer Prize awarded work, Topdog/Underdog, where two black dysfunctional siblings are assigned iconic names of Booth and Lincoln for no historical or dramatically cogent reason other than to signal an outcome of violence in the relationship. Curiosity aroused once again, I decided to visit the Public Theatre, the site of Ms. Parks’ creative incubator, to bear witness to the critical welcoming of Father Comes Home from the Wars, trusting that at least the flashes of scintillating discourse she exudes in her thoughtful essays and public talks might show up in her newest effort to construct a compelling dramatic event. Alas, I was sadly disappointed that such a wonderfully engaged cast had to commit their abundantly crafted performances to such an unachieved dramatic contrivance. Clearly, I was witnessing an entirely different event than those who celebrated the occasion. Almost immediately, it became apparent that reviewers were misguiding the public. Reviewers had accepted the pretentious claim that Father Comes Home from the Wars — Parts 1-3 — represented the initial 3 parts of an intended 7 part epic, blindly, thus erroneously, confirming that the structure of the work was epic, despite the absence of the classical formatting of a series of self-contained scenes, and capable of driving the narrative along a Homeric odyssey, a gimmicky persuasion that never evolves into an epochal journey. Rather, Father Comes Home from the Wars is simply a conventional, over-written 3 Act play, each Act following the linear progression of a single plot flowing from the Aristotelian logic of an unmercifully redundant expositional First Act, a Second Act that mercifully reveals the dramatic purpose of the event, and a Third Act that devolves into a misplaced domestic melodrama. Each Act was separated with the theatrically worn device of inserting a Barbadian Balladeer whose anemic renderings offered little to amplify the dramatic movement of the event, missing an opportunity for a measure of cultural flava and urgency in this Homeric frame by employing the verve of an authentic Blues Raconteur or Griot.