PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Suzan-Lori Parks

Brief Encounter   PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Suzan-Lori Parks Playwright Suzan-Lori Parks doesn't do things by halves.
Suzan-Lori Parks
Suzan-Lori Parks Photo by Aubrey Reuben

The Pulitzer Prize winner for Topdog/Underdog followed up that work with 365 Days/365 Plays, in which she wrote a short play every day of the year, having them premiere at various places by the graces of various theatre companies. Currently, her Father Comes Home From the Wars, (Parts 1, 8 & 9) is playing at the Public Theater as part of its LAB series. The work will eventually be a nine-play cycle that follows two families from 1865 to the present day. Park spoke to Playbill.com about the new play that she calls not necessarily "ambitious," but definitely "big."

Playbill.com: First I have to ask you about the title of your new work, Father Comes Home From the Wars, (Parts 1, 8 & 9). Are we to assume there will be nine parts to this work?
Suzan-Lori Parks: Yes. It's a nine-play cycle.

Playbill.com: And each play will be an hour, an hour-and-a-half?
SLP: I don't know. The first reading we had, it ran over three hours. I cut a lot. I was like, "Oh, man, we're only doing a Public LAB. We'll never have time to do all this." So I cut an hour. Who knows how long it will last?

Playbill.com: And the first play starts in the Civil War.
SLP: Yes. The first play takes place in 1865.

Playbill.com: Are we following different generations of the same family through the cycle?
SLP: The plays are related. The short answer to that is it's the story of two families who we meet in the beginning in the first play. And in the last play we realize that the two separate family trees that were started in the first play, both families have produced a man named Smith. They're not related, though. One Smith is a critic and one Smith is a poet. The critic is a theatre critic, and the poet is a poet in the broadest sense of the word. He's a theatre writer and a poet. It's a happy ending. Playbill.com: A happy ending involving a critic! Imagine that.
SLP: Well, yeah. He's a good critic. He's a good guy.

Playbill.com: Have you written the other plays?
SLP: I've written drafts of them. Right now there are nine parts and I think we're going to hold to that. Often with the first draft I write, when I get to the second draft, it could be a different play.

Playbill.com: What made you decide to do something this ambitious?
SLP: Is it ambitious?

Playbill.com: It sounds like it.
SLP: Big. How about "big." I've been wanting to write this play for years, so I'm kind of getting around to it. I don't see it as ambitious. I see it as big, like an elephant. And elephant is not ambitious. You know what I'm saying? They're just big.

Playbill.com: When they're completed, do you see the nine plays being done all at once, or separately?
SLP: Yeah, a marathon. And hopefully, with very affordable tickets. That's out of my control, but it would be awesome to have a marathon that people could afford to see.

Playbill.com: You mean, as opposed to something like The Coast of Utopia, which cost $300 to see all three plays?
SLP: I didn't mean to imply something like that. I just mean….

Playbill.com: You want people to see it.
SLP: Yeah. I want all people to say, "Hey, I can afford to see that."

Playbill.com: What did you want to say with this…what do you call a play in nine-parts? Not a trilogy, but a…
SLP: It's a Niner.

Playbill: A Niner?
SLP: Or, I don't know if we can call it a Niner. "Nine" means "No" in German. It's a baseball game!

Playbill.com: Nine innings.
SLP: Yeah! How about that?

Playbill: So, is there something you wanted to say about American history?
SLP: My dad was in the Army, and he was always coming home from a war. That's my childhood memory. It's really a version of that part of my personal history. It's a reflection on the endless homecomings from war. And also my love of Greek tragedy, which are the stories of people who come home from wars, and have to deal their own personalities as well as the different circumstances they meet when the come home. In part one, the people are more fettered, due to slavery. In part nine, they're much less fettered, but perhaps no more free than they were in part one. So the nine-part cycle is also a lot of freedom.

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