ASR Theater ~~ Gordon Dahlquist’s “Tea Party” More Political Future-Scape than “Mad Hatter”

By Susan Dunn

Tea Party opens on a black box stage with political interrogation. No set distracts us from the fireworks to come. A government agent (Cassidy Brown) rips into a political prisoner, exposing her liberal, left-wing persuasions. A right-wing prisoner joins the cross-examination, and is physically brutalized and bloodied by the agent.

(L-R): Livia Gomes Demarchi and Cassidy Brown. Photo by Cheshire Isaacs

Many such scenes ensue, transitioned by music of competing voices ranging from choral to hard rock. The first scenes are from the present, then revert to the past, and finally address the future, playing out in that sequence. One is left hoping the scenes come together into a sensible tableau by the end of the play. More on that later.

Dahlquist’s play posits that the Tea Party movement–which began during the presidency of Barack Obama and effectively over time changed our politics to a zero-sum game–has created this nation’s current divisions.

From “Tea Party” Photo by Jeff Rumans.

I think there is a real misunderstanding about what the Tea Party movement is. The Tea Party movement is a sentiment that government is broken, free market principles have been abandoned, with both parties to blame,  and if we don’t do something soon, this exceptional country will be lost.

…a strong cast of featured actors…

So agrees director Erin Merritt, in her director’s notes. She exhorts us to recognize this nationwide divide and governmental failure and get involved to bridge it, or civil war will be our future.

Characters represent left-wing, right-wing, and government. All sides are shown with their problems and power struggles exposed. Cassidy Brown, first as a government agent, then as a Dutch journalist, leads us through key scenes, with a strong cast of featured actors assuming different roles. Special mention goes to Anthony Cistaro and Bob Greene who cover their parts with diverse movement and vocal projection.

(L-R) Cassidy Brown and Livia Gomes Demarchi at work in “Tea Party”. Photo by Cheshire Isaacs

Other performers sometimes suffer from static blocking and muffled delivery to an audience surrounding a thrust stage. The many violent scenes are carried out with finesse through the guidance of Dave Maier.

Although delving into the Tea Party is most timely, and delivered to a mainly liberal and politically receptive part of the country, this reviewer believes that Dahlquist’s message could use more dramatic tools to help the audience lock in and see a path to activism. I was also left with the feeling the playwright missed the boat on addressing the impact negative social media has had on our national discourse: enabling the spread of disinformation, distrust, and animosity.

And as mentioned earlier, I felt that better identification of various scenes would have also gone a long way to sustain this viewer’s interest in this otherwise engaging production. This play, and its message, deserve it.


Since arriving in California from New York in 1991, Susan Dunn has been on the executive boards of Hillbarn Theatre, Altarena Playhouse, Berkeley Playhouse, Virago Theatre and Island City Opera, where she is a development director and stage manager.

An enthusiastic advocate for new productions and local playwrights, she is a voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, and a recipient of a 2015 Alameda County Arts Leadership Award. Contact:

ProductionTea Party
Written by
Gordon Dahlquist
Directed byErin Merritt
Producing CompanyOne Of Our Own Theater
Production DatesThru Mar 19th, 2023
Production AddressThe Rueff at ACT’s Strand Theater, 1127 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94103
Tickets$20- $50
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?----

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ Compelling “Headlands” at ACT

By Barry Willis

An unsolved murder, a family mystery, and a personal existential crisis all combine in Christopher Chen’s The Headlands at ACT’s Toni Rembe Theatre through March 5.

Phil Wong stars as Henry, a self-described “thirty-something San Francisco native who works in tech.” Wong is confident and convincing, serving as the show’s narrator and principal character.

Sam Jackson (Jess) and Phil Wong (Henry) in the West Coast premiere of Christopher Chen’s “The Headlands”. Photo credit: Kevin Berne.

He comes onstage under full house lights, with the relaxed demeanor of a standup comedian, and introduces himself and the play’s primary backstory: the unsolved murder of Henry’s father George (Johnny M. Wu) some 20 years earlier, a deeply traumatic event in Henry’s young life.

…worthy of a full thumbs-up recommendation…

Part memory play, part who-done-it, Henry’s tale moves back and forth in time, from his parents’ first meeting, to his pre-teen years when he and his dad would go hiking in the Marin Headlands, to the present, where he deals with his aging mother Leena (Keiko Shimosato Carreiro), his girlfriend Jess (Sam Jackson), and his estranged older brother Tom (Jomar Tagatac), given up for adoption before Henry was born.

Other superb cast members include Erin Mei-Ling Stuart as the younger Leena, and Bay Area theater veteran Charles Shaw Robinson in dual roles as Walter, George’s business partner, and as a San Francisco police detective. A brilliant bit of direction by ACT artistic director Pam MacKinnon and a brilliant bit of acting is George’s accent—early in the show, when he is a teenage immigrant and his future wife’s suitor, his pronunciation is thick, but later, as an adult, he’s become fully fluent and speaks a natural American dialect.

Keiko Shimosato Carreiro (Pat) and Phil Wong (Henry) in “The Headlands” performing at A.C.T. Photo credit: Kevin Berne.

The Headlands is a compelling story, made more compelling by Alexander V. Nichols’ combined set and projection designs. Nichols is the offstage superstar of this production. His elegant rotating set is a translucent lath-and-plaster construction that when illuminated with projections gives a ghostly appearance to everything from a Sunset district family home to a headlands hiking trail to San Rafael’s Canal district to the apartment shared by Henry and Jess.

Toward the tale’s conclusion, a slow, over-long scene between these two is the only dramatic road bump in an otherwise very good production. A judicious edit there, and in a couple other spots in the dialog would lift this show from “very good” to “great.” It’s worthy of a full thumbs-up recommendation, regardless.


Barry Willis is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and president of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. Contact:



ProductionThe Headlands
Written byChristopher Chen
Directed byPam Mackinnon
Producing CompanyAmerican Conservatory Theater (ACT)
Production DatesThru March 5th, 2023
Production AddressToni Rembe Theatre, 415 Geary Street, SF, CA
Telephone(415) 749-2228
Tickets$25 – $112
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK!YES!

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ Sumptuous “A Christmas Carol” Returns to ACT

By Barry Willis

A fabulous San Francisco tradition has returned after a three-year absence.

Perhaps the greatest redemption story in the English language, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is back at the American Conservatory Theatre, and what a welcome it’s receiving. The show runs through December 24 at the Toni Rembe Theatre on Geary Street (formerly the Geary Theatre).

The sumptuous, big-scale production stars James Carpenter as the dour miser Ebenezer Scrooge.

James Carpenter (Scrooge).

Without question one of the Bay Area’s top acting talents, Carpenter is at his peak in his signature role, one he shares with Anthony Fusco in alternating performances. Fusco is also a supremely talented actor who should bring an unusual interpretation to one of the most hated, most amusing, and ultimately most loved characters in the theatrical repertoire.

Directed by Peter J. Kuo, riffing somewhat on Carey Perloff’s original concept, this Christmas Carol is a joy to behold, with a huge cast of 40 performers including many children, but also many veteran actors (most in multiple roles) such as Sharon Lockwood, Jomar Tagatac, Howard Swain, and Brian Herndon. Lockwood absolutely shines as Mrs. Dilbert, Scrooge’s bitter housekeeper, and also as the lighthearted Mrs. Fezziwig, wife of Scrooge’s first employer.

…A theatrical and spiritual uplift unlike any other…

Dan Hiatt is fantastic as the ghost of Scrooge’s business partner Jacob Marley, who appears early in the tale to warn Scrooge that it’s not too late to change his evil ways.

Dan Hiatt (Ghost of Jacob Marley) in A.C.T.’s celebrated production of the Charles Dickens’ classic tale.

Burdened with the accumulated heavy karma of his earthly misdeeds, he rattles his fetters and intones “I wear the chain I forged in life. I made it link by link and yard by yard . . . ” — one of the most potent warnings ever issued by a character on stage, and one that establishes the high-stakes drama to come.

The production sails along with astounding effects. The Ghost of Christmas Past (the glamorous B Noel Thomas) appears to Scrooge floating above him on a celestial swing (scenic designer John Arnone). Scrooge’s office is up a flight of stairs that he climbs repeatedly to lord it over his underpaid and oppressed clerk Bob Cratchit (Jomar Tagatac). Emily Newsome brings a charming sensitivity to the role of Belle, Scrooge’s first love, cast aside by his single-minded pursuit of money.

The cast of A.C.T.’s celebrated production of the Charles Dickens classic, “A Christmas Carol”, playing at the Toni Rembe Theater (formerly the Geary Theater) in The City.

This Christmas Carol revives much of the tremendous theatricality that has long been part of ACT’s annual holiday offering. The stagecraft is spectacular and the music and dancing totally delightful. Composer Karl Lundeberg and choreographer Val Caniparoli deserve accolades for their contributions, as do lighting designer Nancy Schertler and sound designer Jake Rodriguez. The show is a brilliant team effort by a huge array of inspired experts.

A theatrical and spiritual uplift unlike any other, ACT’s A Christmas Carol is a wonderful holiday tradition suitable for all ages.


Barry Willis is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and president of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. Contact:



ProductionA Christmas Carol
Written byCharles Dickens - adapted by Carey Perloff and Paul Wals
Directed by
Choreographed by
Peter J. Kuo
Val Caniparoli
Producing CompanyAmerican Conservatory Theater (ACT)
Production DatesThrough Dec 24th
Production AddressToni Rembe Theatre, 415 Geary Street, SF, CA
Telephone(415) 749-2228
Tickets$15 – $140
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?YES!

An ASR Theater Review: Eno’s “Wakey, Wakey” a Short Snooze at ACT – by Barry Willis

Tony Hale as Guy in “Wakey, Wakey” at American Conservatory Theater’s Geary Theater.

A dying man lectures the audience on the wonders of life in Will Eno’s “Wakey, Wakey” at the American Conservatory Theater, through February 16.

Former TV star Tony Hale (“Arrested Development,” “Veep”) and veteran actress Kathryn Smith-McGlynn bring nuance and conviction to a muddled script directed by Anne Kauffman, its title not a reference to “woke culture” but apparently an admonition to be alert and conscious and rejoice in all that life has to offer including its inherent contradictions and dead-ends.

The piece opens with Hale’s character Guy lying half-clad on the stage and proceeds to having him engage in an addled monologue in his pajamas while sitting in a wheelchair. Some of his ramblings are absurd observations, a few are poignant remembrances, but most are simply non sequiturs strung end-to-end, all accompanied by old home movies and odd bits of eye candy projected on a huge screen behind him, ostensibly controlled by a small remote with which he continually fumbles. The jumble of letters and misspelled words in the projections  is a recurring gambit, perhaps symbolic of the loss of cognition suffered by those nearing the end of their tenure on earth—or perhaps not so symbolic, and simply  comedic distractions inserted by the playwright to punch up the entertainment value.

This piece has potential…but need(s) much more development to justify putting on such an esteemed stage as ACT’s.

Such confusion is rampant throughout the 80 minutes of “Wakey, Wakey,” a piece of so-called “metatheater” that attempts to confound many of the traditions of live theater. Eno is a trendy playwright whose “The Realistic Joneses” has been performed by many companies and has been generally well-received. His “Middletown” is a pointless exercise in attempting to update Thorton Wilder’s classic “Our Town.”  “Wakey, Wakey” continues the pointlessness, right up to and including the moment when Guy expires, launching a deluge of bright balloons and celebratory music.

Eno may have drawn inspiration from Randy Pausch, the Carnegie Mellon University computer scientist who, while dying of pancreatic cancer, delivered motivational talks about achieving childhood dreams. The script’s amateur construction aside, Hale does a marvelous job holding the attention of the audience and conveying his character’s constantly mutating state of energy and awareness.

Kathryn Smith-McGlynn as Lisa (left) and Tony Hale as Guy in “Wakey, Wakey” at American Conservatory Theater’s Geary Theater.

Smith-McGlynn is tremendously confident and sensitive as hospice nurse Lisa, who comes in late to check on him. She also appears as a community college substitute teacher in the opening sketch “The Substitution,” in which Eno conflates a cultural history lesson with driver’s education. This short piece has potential, as does “Wakey, Wakey,” but both of them need much more development to justify putting them on such an esteemed stage as ACT’s.

ASR Executive Editor Barry Willis is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and president of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. Contact:


ProductionWakey, Wakey
Written byWIll Eno
Directed byAnne Kauffman
Producing CompanyAmerican Conservatory Theater (ACT)
Production DatesThrough Feb 16th
Production AddressAmerican Conservatory Theater, Geary Theater
415 Geary Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
Telephone(415) 749-2228
Tickets$15 – $110
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?----


AN AISLE SEAT REVIEW PICK! Dated but Relevant “Top Girls” Opens ACT Season – by Barry Willis

Pope Joan (Rosie Hallett), Dull Gret (Summer Brown), Marlene (Michelle Beck), Lady Nijo (Monica Lin), and Isabella Bird (Julia McNeal) recount their life stories at a dinner party in Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls performing at A.C.T.’s Geary Theater now through October 13, 2019.

Caryl Churchill’s “Top Girls” hasn’t been performed in the Bay Area in a long time. It’s been revived as the season opener at American Conservatory Theater, directed by Tamilla Woodard and running through October 13.

About a hard-charging female executive angling to move up the management ladder, the 37-year- old play has lost none of its relevance in the intervening decades, as is made dismayingly clear in several essays-with-statistics in “Words on Plays,” the fascinating booklet that accompanies the show’s playbill. Women still lag behind men in compensation and positions of authority. There’s nothing revelatory in that, but the piece has nonetheless acquired a bit of tarnish over the years.

Director Woodard pulls wonderfully committed performances from her eight-member cast…

At its core, “Top Girls” is a simple tale of a British career woman named Marlene (Michelle Beck), running from the limited opportunities of her working-class origins and pouring all her considerable energy into the pursuit of corporate power. Set in the early 1980s—the play debuted in ’82—it depicts Marlene maneuvering for an executive position even if it means displacing a male colleague who’s the sole support for his family of four. A Thatcherite, Marlene believes in meritocracy – the idea that the cream of society rises to the top – and dismisses the entitlement mentality of leftists and union workers.

Nell (Summer Brown) and Win (Rosie Hallett) arrive to work at the Top Girls Employment Agency in Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls performing at A.C.T.’s Geary Theater now through October 13, 2019.

As a manager in a busy employment agency, Marlene doesn’t gladly suffer fools. Her interviews with job-seekers are brusque, bordering on insulting, and she doesn’t hesitate to dominate her office-mates. They are not friends. But suffer she does, as we learn in the second act—from the slights she has showered on her family and the personal sacrifices she’s made seeking power in a man’s world. She doesn’t really have a life outside work.

The opening scene could be interpreted as evidence of Marlene’s suffering, and by extension, the suffering of all ambitious women. It’s a comically nightmarish dinner party featuring notable women fictional and historical: 19th-century adventurer Isabella Bird (Julia McNeal); Lady Nijo (Monica Lin), an 11th-century exile from the Japanese Imperial Court; the legendary Pope Joan (Rosie Hallett), thought to have reigned during the Middle Ages in the guise of a man; and Dull Gret (Summer Brown), a fearsome warrior immortalized by Brueghel. All bucked the patriarchy; the scene offers each an opportunity to tell her story. Each recitation adds fuel to Marlene’s furious purpose. It also allows all of them to riff simultaneously in multiple accents, an effect that’s literally a fugue of howling madwomen.

We get that they’re angry, even centuries after the fact, but from the audience’s point of view the scene is too long, consuming most of the first act. Here and there in the cacophony we understand a phrase or two, but for the most part, it’s as comprehensible as a long night of Dada poetry.

An esteemed British playwright, Churchill is no respecter of traditional temporal narrative or dramatic structure. The dinner scene—an exercise in art for art’s sake—is followed by an introduction to the employment service where Marlene works, and that, by a scene of two girls at play in a backyard—Kit (Lily D. Harris) and Angie (Gabriella Momah). The first act closes leaving viewers wondering how all this ties together.

 Michelle Beck and Monique Hafen at work at ACT.

The second act is both rebuttal to and redemption for the excesses of the first. In a scene of gut-wrenching earnestness, Marlene has a heart-to-heart with her sister Joyce (Nafeesa Monroe) in her kitchen, where we learn the roots of Marlene’s driving ambition and the nature of her relationship to her worshipful, enthusiastic, but dim-witted niece Angie. The final scene takes place a year before the preceding one, but makes solid dramatic sense.

The play’s difficulties and pretensions are offset by superb acting by a cast of eight women, all save Beck and Momah in dual roles. Performances range from good to exemplary, including Hallett as Win and Brown as Nell, two different but dynamically balanced office workers whose arch banter spices their otherwise tedious workdays. Harris is youngest-appearing of the cast—she looks to be in her late teens—and mid-way through the second act she does a fantastically funny turn as a job-seeker named Shona pretending to be much older.

Shona bluffs with enormous chutzpah and an increasingly absurd litany of business buzzwords during her interview with Nell. She doesn’t know much and the more she talks the more it shows, an expertly rendered comedic sketch that provoked spontaneous applause on opening night.

Aided by Barbara Samuels’s elegant lighting, set designer Nina Ball achieves something remarkable with “Top Girls”—an austere set evoking the coldness of the business world, and another one quite warm and cozy as Joyce’s home. The emergence of Joyce’s residence from far back to stage front is a marvelous effect.

Director Woodard pulls wonderfully committed performances from her eight-member cast, but the standout for this reviewer is Gabriella Momah as the lovable, sweet-natured but intellectually limited Shona. She’s an absolute delight, a bright ray of sunshine in this darkly-tinted story.

ASR Executive Editor Barry Willis is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and president of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle.



ProductionTop Girls
Written byCaryl Churchil
Directed byTamilla Woodard
Producing CompanyAmerican Conservatory Theater (ACT)
Production DatesThrough Oct 13th
Production AddressAmerican Conservatory Theater
415 Geary Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
Telephone(415) 834-3200
Tickets$25 – $102
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?YES!

An ASR Theater Review! Amazing, Wonderful “Walk on the Moon” at ACT – by Barry Willis

“A Walk on the Moon” at ACT

1969 was a pivotal year in the United States. The Vietnam War was approaching its peak, as was opposition to it at home. The civil rights and women’s movements grew more intense by the week. In late July, the first astronaut walked on the moon, and shortly thereafter a half-million music fans showed up at a farm near Woodstock, NY, for what would be the defining cultural moment of the decade.

All of this figures into “A Walk on the Moon,” at ACT through July 1. It’s a beguiling tale of a Jewish housewife’s late-in-life coming of age through an accidental encounter with a hippie peddler. Katie Brayben stars as Pearl Kantrowitz, a young mother from Flatbush, whose family traditionally spends a few idyllic summer weeks at a resort in the Catskills with friends and neighbors, all of whom, save Pearl’s rebellious adolescent daughter Alison (Brigid O’Brien), are still very much in the 1950s.

Marty and Pearl – Jonah Platt and Katie Brayben in “A Walk on the Moon” at ACT

Pearl’s TV-repairman husband Marty (Jonah Platt) can’t stay with them as much as he would prefer because business is booming at the repair shop where he works , in anticipation of the moon landing. Pearl spends idle moments hanging out with Walker (Zak Resnick), a local free spirit who sells blouses out of his camper van. Their friendship blossoms and culminates in a psychedelic adventure during the music festival, mirroring a less-intense affair that Alison has with a charming guitar-playing boy named Ross (Nick Sacks).

The story covers a short period in social history but a huge episode in Pearl’s life. She was, as she describes it, almost a child bride—one who went from high school to motherhood with no developmental period in between. Walker, and the ideas he shares with her, are Pearl’s forbidden fruit, and like Eve in Genesis Chapter 3, her eyes are opened.

Pearl and Walker – Katie Brayben and Zak Resnick at ACT

The verdant setting of the “bungalow colony” feels almost like Eden as realized by scenic designer Donyale Werle, and Tal Yarden’s astoundingly immersive projections go a long way toward encompassing the heady events of the late 1960s. Stagecraft at ACT is almost always beyond reproach, but this production is among the company’s most spectacular. It’s absolutely gorgeous.

“A Walk on the Moon’ is a flawless, must-see production.

Developed by Pamela Gray from the 1990s movie of the same name, “A Walk on the Moon” beautifully evokes a period whose effects still resonate almost fifty years later. The music by Paul Scott Goodman, with additional lyrics by Gray, gets the ‘60s feel just right while sounding totally contemporary. The entire cast is superb but Brayben takes her performance completely over the moon (sorry) with all-consuming dramatic conviction, fantastic dancing, and stunning vocals. It’s one of the most complete and fully engaged performances you’re likely to see this year.

“A Walk on the Moon” is a flawless, must-see production. Its only drawback is that it isn’t running all summer.


ASR Theater Section Editor and Senior Writer: Barry Willis

Barry Willis is ASR’s Theater Section Editor and a Sr. Contributor at Aisle Seat Review. He is also a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and president of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. Contact:




“A Walk on the Moon” by Pamela Gray; Music by Paul Scott Goodman; Directed by Sheryl Kaller

Through July 1: Tuesday– Saturday, 8 p.m.; Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday, 2 p.m.

American Conservatory Theater  Geary Theater, 415 Geary Street, San Francisco, CA

Tickets: $15 – $110

Info: 415-749-2228,

Rating: Five out of Five Stars

ASR Theater Review! Loose Cannon — ACT’s “Father Comes Home from the Wars” – by Barry Willis

A great old joke has it that “a camel is a horse designed by committee.” The same might be said about Civil War epic “Father Comes Home from the Wars,” directed by Liz Diamond, at American Conservatory Theater through May 20.

The committee in question is playwright Suzan-Lori Parks, an artist so deeply in love with her own voice that she can’t figure out what material fits and what needs to be jettisoned. She includes it all, like William Faulkner delivering to his editor his magnum opus in a wheelbarrow.

Unlike Faulkner, Parks didn’t have a ruthless editor to shape her material into something compelling. She instead offers a sprawling amalgam of history and personal quest that attempts to be both drama and comedy but ultimately succeeds as neither. The story at its core is quite simple: a slave named Hero (James Udom, superb) elects to serve as valet to his “boss master,” a Confederate colonel (Dan Hiatt) who has answered the call of duty and is headed to the war. Hero wonders if he should go or not, to the point of almost cutting off his own foot to render himself unfit, a fate that has already befallen his friend Homer (Julian Elijah Martinez). He’s also reluctant to say goodbye to his love Penny (Eboni Flowers) and other members of his community, but the lure of adventure, the intoxication of wearing a uniform, and the promise of freedom at the end of his servitude overwhelm his better judgment and off he goes. There are mentions of Hero’s dog Odyssey, who has run off, but we never see him.

James Udom

“Father Comes Home” follows a traditional three-act structure, with enough characters and plot devices to fill a two-season PBS series. In the first act, we meet Hero and other members of his community, their shabby housing represented by the rusty façade of a corrugated metal shack. (Scenic design by Riccardo Hernandez.) This introduction, itself introduced by a mellifluous guitar-playing musician (Martin Luther McCoy, excellent), consumes the better part of an hour and segues directly into Act II, which finds Hero, the Colonel, and a wounded-and-captured Union soldier (Tom Pecinka) camped out in a forest within earshot of battle but safely away from it, the damage of war and the forest where they’re hiding represented by huge upended I-beams, more 1945 Berlin than 1865 Appomattox.

The Colonel preens, drinks, and rants, and during lulls in encroaching cannon fire, the three of them engage in a free-wheeling discussion of personal and social freedom, identity, status, value, ownership, man, god, law, and destiny. This act is exceptionally well done by three skilled actors and were it fully fleshed out might prove to be a satisfying resolution to the questions raised in Act I. Or not—the playwright might have her characters ask these questions and leave them for the audience to ponder.

Act III opens with the rusty shack superimposed on the remnants of war, with three runaway slaves cowering on its porch. Over the hill comes what appears to be a crazy homeless person in a wooly bathrobe, flitting about, flipping his hair and gushing about the fates of Hero and the Colonel. A new character introduced in the last act—Parks clearly disregards the laws of drama here—and one who had many in the opening night audience mumbling “WTF?” This crazy homeless person proves to be Odyssey, Hero’s missing dog, who has followed his master, at a distance, to the war and back and has come home to tell the tale. He’s comic relief, like the gravedigger in “Hamlet.”

Greg Wallace

A talking dog. We are now solidly in Uncle Remus and Brer Rabbit territory.

Odyssey (ACT veteran Gregory Wallace) spins an elaborate tale, provoking many laughs, and informs the community that Hero isn’t dead as they believed, but in fact survived and is coming home. And Hero does just that, arriving with gifts for Homer and Penny, and a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation that he has copied by hand but never reads aloud. Their reunion is warm and reassuring until Hero lashes out wildly with his knife, slashing at the runaways, his friend Homer, and everyone near him. There is neither justification nor explanation for this outburst. Then he calms down to tell Penny that he has a wife on the way, and it isn’t her. The end, more or less.

Its stagecraft is very good, but “Father Comes Home” is lengthy (three hours), ponderous, and baffling. Parks has worked historical facts into fantasies that never fully take flight. Hero’s journey is an arduous one, especially for the audience, some of whom left at intermission. That may have made for a more fulfilling evening at the theater.

ASR Senior Editor Barry Willis is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and president of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle.


“Father Comes Home from the Wars” by Suzan-Lori Parks

Directed by Liz Diamond

American Conservatory Theater

Geary Theater, 415 Geary Street San Francisco

Tickets: $15 – $110 Info:

Rating: Three out of Five Stars


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