Pulitzer-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks brings her latest epic American tale to the Goodman Theatre stage.
Suzan-Lori Parks (Portrait by Kwaku Alston/Corbis via Getty Images)
Considering the hundreds of theaters around the world that have produced work by Pulitzer Prize winner Suzan-Lori Parks, you can forgive the New Yorker for blanking on exactly which of her pieces have been produced by the Goodman.
“I really have lost track,” she laughs (for the record: 365 Days/365 Plays, Talking to Jupiter and In the Blood), but Parks is also incredibly appreciative of those shows’ value. “Awesome theaters like the Goodman are the life of the play in my mind,” insists the 54-year-old.
As the theater prepares to raise the curtain on Parks’ latest effort, the Civil War epic Father Comes Home From the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3), we spoke with the playwright about race relations, the thrill of Black Panther and her aim to be a writer who resonates.
You wrote this play several years ago. How do you think it speaks to race relations in America today? SUZAN-LORI PARKS: My work, while it always happens in a certain time, I write it hopefully in such a way that it will endure. I hope it will resonate. So when I wrote the first three parts of Father Comes Home From the Wars, they spoke to the way we used to be and the way we are, and that hasn’t changed. I find it interesting that people are so surprised by what’s happening these days. It’s been happening for a long time. Race relations hasn’t all of a sudden taken a turn. We are consistent in our relations with each other.
You talk about wanting to resonate. Who are some writers that resonate for you? SLP: Shakespeare. There’s one! You can look at something like King Lear, and you go, ‘Wow, he wasn’t just writing about the 1600s; he was writing about today. How can he do that?’ Brecht is another good one. Caryl Churchill has a wonderful way of talking about the past, the present and the future all in one breath, all in one line. And the Greeks. Those plays are very sturdy, and also beautiful—like a piece of furniture. And what’s nice about something that resonates is that it carries with it all the concerns and anguishes and hopes and dreams of all people throughout time. It’s not a small job, but I lay my effort in that direction.
As a screenwriter, what’s your take on Black Panther? SLP: Wakanda forever! [laughs] Talk about resonance—that film resonates throughout time. And it gives people who are underrepresented... to see yourself represented in that kind of universe is beautiful. And they made the story inclusive, and that’s a powerful thing. We underestimate that basic feeling [of being included], when your heart lifts and you feel that your life is possible. It cannot be underrated.
You’re working on a film adaptation of Native Son. How do you approach tackling such a classic? SLP: I work to create a communion with the original writer. What I feel strongly is a need to tell the story truly; what I do not have very strongly is the need to put my stamp on it. I say, ‘Hold my hand and communicate through me the energy that would be appropriate for today.’ With that, it’s very pleasing and joyful to do, because I feel like I’m hanging out with a great writer who made a great novel, and audiences today who haven’t had the experience of it will experience it anew today.
Where do you find inspiration? SLP: My work is generating inspiration for me. I look out into the world and it’s very inspiring, and it’s also very troubling, very troubling. But as they say in A Wrinkle in Time, your wound is where the light comes in. Father Comes Home From the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3) runs May 25-June 24 at the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., 312.443.3800, goodmantheatre.org