NYU Black Renaissance Noire Fall 2015 Volume 15.2 - Page 37

k Ken Marks, Benton Greene, and Michael Crane in Part 2: A Battle in the Wilderness. Today I can say “I belong to the Colonel.” “I belong to the Colonel,” I says now. That’s how come they don’t beat me. But when Freedom comes and they stop me and ask and I say “I’m my own and I own myself,” you think they’ll leave me be? Hero, having gone off to war with his master, returns to the plantation in Part 3, actually, Act 3, like Johnny Comes Marching Home, inscribed for some impenetrable reason as The Union Of My Confederate Parts, bearing a new name, Ulysses, and much like Agamemnon’s return from the Trojan Wars, a concubine he wishes to introduce to his plantation wife whose rejection is not as fatal as Clytemnestra, yet becomes the impetus for an incredulously unabashed 19th century melodramatic domestic dust-up following the discovery that she had been unfaithfully engaged in a carnal relationship with Homer in his absence. The only thing that salvages the final act from being agonizing is Hero’s dog, Odd-See (signifying Odyssey), who had run away in the first act, and returned in the last act for a raucously amusing re-telling of all he had witnessed on the battlefield, including the death of Master. One must necessarily ask what value do Homeric archetypes serve in providing mythic amplification for Ms. Parks’ narrative? And, conversely, how does her mimesis of the classic narrative shed new light on the original Homeric saga? The symbolic correspondences and significations ring shallow and are merely gratuitous, her aspiration to mimic the classic tone feeling more like muted inspiration. Father Comes H ome from the Wars is a dramaturgically flawed work that depends on words, in the absence of action, yet is woefully undernourished linguistically, prodding through the prolix of an over-stuffed narrative so prosaic that it urges the audience into the Arms of Morpheus with audible sounds of slumber. Yet, Charles Isherwood, pontificating from the Bully Pulpit of the New York Times, was titillated by Ms. Parks’ appropriation of the “noble template” of a Homeric tale to construct a fable about the conundrum of Freedom in the face of slave loyalty to a Master during the Civil War — not unlike the myth of Tonto’s inexorable loyalty to the Lone Ranger. Buttressed by a sense of validation from the “noble template,” he patronizingly delights in Ms. Parks’ “incantatory language, which rolls along with an entrancing rhythmic tread, freely tossing contemporary slang into the mix” in a text that “swoops, leaps, dives and soars across three endlessly stimulating hours, reimagining a turbulent turning point in American history through a cockeyed contemporary lens.4” BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE After wading through an hour of the rambling expositional prolix of Act 1, one is grateful for the glistening arrival of Act 2, A Battle in the Wilderness, which has semblance of an engaging conflict, dramatic tension, and character revelations when Hero speculates his personal value: how much, in fact, is he worth? Hero takes pride in the self-estimation of his purchase value being eight hundred dollars, perhaps garnering as high as one thousand. If the South loses the war, however, he would be free but not worth a dollar. And, what if he escapes? Is he, in effect, stealing eight hundred dollars from his hated, hateful master? Upon reflecting on a potential confrontation with a paddy roller (patroller), Hero speculates: 35 One suspected it would be a long night when the opening scene of Part 1, actually Act 1, inscribed as “A Measure of Men,” is set around a “Chorus of Less Than Desirable Slaves,” who, rather than seizing upon the gravitas of the moment, engage in a “minstrelized” query of whether or not Hero, an un-heroic protagonist, will follow his Master into battle against the Union (as if the Slave had a choice in the matter). Notions of Freedom are sophistically jawed by Slaves as if they were a sweet thing to be purchased in a confectionary shop, rather than a welcoming change in a condition of servitude, even a sensation of anticipated joy, never revealing what they know about Freedom, accepting only that it must be something good since Master has frequently held it out to the slaves like a carrot on a stick. Hero wrestles with the moral dilemma — even to the point of betraying his fellow-slave, Homer, with whom he had planned an escape to Freedom — of whether assuming self-ownership by running away from Master, in essence, taking one’s own freedom, would be tantamount to stealing. If slavery is an immoral institution, what does it mean for a slave to claim ownership of himself? Finally, a nugget to be minted emerges, an existential inquiry into the consequences of to be or not to be a slave, a very central exposition of the plot which does not enter the consciousness of the audience until midway into Part 2, actually, Act 2, of the 3 hour narrative.