Intrepid Theatre's 'Father Comes Home From The Wars' Combines Art And Community Outreach
Play set in Civil War has contemporary feel
Intrepid Theatre Company looks to the intersection of art and community outreach for its new production, "Father Comes Home From the Wars." The company is partnering with the San Diego Museum of Man to facilitate school field trips to the museum’s exhibit and a stage show, Race: Are We So Different.?
Teachers face the challenge of trying to make history come alive for students. But Intrepid’s Christy Yael-Cox has tools at her disposal that most teachers do not have: namely Suzan-Lori Parks’ compelling play "Father Comes Home From the Wars" and a theatre company to bring the play to vivid life.
"It’s an education outreach program that we are taking to schools where schools come in they experience the play they have lunch with actors and have Q & A with them, and then they go to the Museum of Man and go through a guided tour of the race exhibit," Yael-Cox said. "The value of being able to experience a story through an individual experience, for everybody that's impactful but for kids it’s just a heightened level of understanding and a gateway into compassion and empathy that we don’t get from reading a book."
Yael-Cox said she cannot emphasize enough how important it is for today’s youth to start asking questions about race in America and then try to answer them.
Parks’ play is set in the Civil War and follows a character named Hero on an epic journey through the battle-ravaged South where he experiences slavery and freedom. Yael-Cox directs Parks' play.
"It’s contemporary, it’s really accessible, it’s really exciting, there are exciting characters, it’s set in the Civil War yet you could have just as easily picked these people up off the street today and told their story," Yael-Cox said.
"I really believe that one of the great things that we do as actors, as storytellers, is we get an opportunity to share an experience that connects to us as human beings," Added Antonio TJ Johnson, who is co-directing the play and taking on the role of the Oldest Old Man. He too sees the play as feeling contemporary. "It’s easier for me to think contemporary when I think about the play than it is for me to think about what’s going on back there in slavery. It is easier for me to think about the inequities going on right now and it just makes sense."
That makes it more accessible to both kids and adults.
Yael-Cox said, "[Parks] really is trying to untangle these issues in a way that makes us look at not just what happened in the past but what is happening right now today and she’s really opening all of that up and she’s not answering all the questions but she is really asking the right questions,"
"It’s a piece that forces you to ask questions, that’s what makes it amazing," said Wrekless Watson who plays Hero. "It allows you think on what if, why are things still the same way, how can I make change, how can I be the different factor, it allows you ask those questions."
Johnson points out that despite the setting, the play really is not about slavery.
"I think that’s what the Oldest Old Man is doing is he is trying to leave this lesson that they can go by that has nothing to do with their circumstances even if you are a slave you have to be this person and if you give someone your word and that’s the thing," Johnson Said.
Tamara McMillan plays Penny, Hero’s well-grounded wife Penny. She was attracted to how the play made it easy to relate to characters from more than 150 years ago.
"Immediately I knew it was very relatable to the current political times of right now," McMillan said. "I am an advocate for conversations that spark dialogue based off the life we live. I was eager to dive in and get to the meat of the characters and what they wanted then is not so much different from what we want now."
Parks uses the past to hold up a mirror to the present.
"She’s done this very intentionally," Yael-Cox added. "This sort of mash-up of modern and period because that does allow us to connect all of these issues and all of these thoughts to right now."
The gift for the audience is to be able to look at the past through the lens of today, and that is a great way to make history come alive for people of any age.
"Father Comes Home From The Wars" runs through Oct. 22, at the Horton Grand Theatre.