When I first encountered the work of Suzan-Lori Parks in the 1990s with her play Venus, I was struck both by her poetic, jazz-inspired language, and by her ability to exhume history and create relevance and resonance for contemporary audiences. With Venus, she explored the objectification, both past and present, of black women’s bodies by depicting the story of Sarah Baartman, a 19th century South African woman who was put on display so people could gape at her bodily proportions. I had rarely encountered a play that so deftly links past and present, showing us how bygone eras still effervesce within us.
In the decades since, I watched in admiration as Suzan-Lori’s singular voice swept across the American theater; in 2002, she became the first African American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for her play Topdog/Underdog. When I read Father Comes Home From the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3), I knew immediately that the plays—three separate works, which Suzan- Lori intended to be performed together—would enthrall and intrigue our audiences. This epic trilogy offers an expansive view of the effects of slavery on America’s consciousness and conscience, and riffs loosely on Homer’s The Odyssey. Like so many of Suzan-Lori’s other works, it collapses and expands time, bringing us face to face with our ancestors—and ourselves.
Since it premiered at New York’s Public Theater in 2014 to rave reviews, several companies have undertaken this masterpiece, and I am thrilled to produce the Chicago premiere as part of the Goodman’s 2017/2018 Season. I am also excited to welcome director Niegel Smith, artistic director of New York’s Flea Theater, who makes his Goodman debut with these remarkable plays. Niegel brings both deep intellect and well-cultivated aesthetic to his work, and I cannot imagine a director better suited to interpret Suzan-Lori’s epic story. I invite you to join me in exploring these three staggeringly beautiful, complex plays, and to contemplate their resonance in your own life.