‘Father Comes Home From the Wars’ LA Theater Review: Parks Entertaining New Masterpiece

May 02, 2016


The Pulitzer winner’s new drama at Mark Taper Forum is a thought-provoking, oddly funny exploration of slavery

Suzan-Lori Parks’ new drama, “Father Comes Home From the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3),” which opened Sunday at L.A.’s Mark Taper Forum and plays through May 15, is remarkable for being both serious and seriously entertaining.

It’s an ambitious, nearly three-hour production that breaks new ground in depicting the now-familiar era of American slavery. First, the play explores some of the complicated moral dilemmas faced by the slaves themselves, giving them an agency and a culpability that is far too often bypassed. And second, it frames the conflict not as some stilted, hyper-serious period piece — but as a yarn loaded with modern idioms and an often whimsical humor.

The central figure is the aptly named Hero (Sterling K. Brown, reprising the role from the original 2014 production at NYC’s Public Theater), the No. 1 slave on his Southern plantation who’s invited to join his master-boss (Michael McKean) to fight for the Confederacy in the Civil War.

What’s unusual is that Hero has apparently been given a choice in the matter, and the dubious promise of freedom if he agrees to don a Confederate uniform and wage war against his own self-interest. And soon his fellow slaves begin wagering on whether he’ll join the Confederate fight.

In the second act, Hero finds himself on the road with his boss-master and a Union prisoner of war (Josh Wingate), who provides yet another perspective to the mid-19th-century African American experience. The Union soldier also offers Hero a potential path to freedom, one that carries its own set of risks.

Hero returns to the plantation and to his sweetheart, Penny (Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris), for the final act, a tour-de-force homecoming that elevates everything that has come before. Parks, who is best known for the 2002 Pulitzer Prize winner “Topdog/Underdog,” proves herself a master at fusing the highbrow and the low.


On the one hand, she adopts a traditional three-act play structure and uses deliberate echoes of classic Homeric literature, giving the leads names like Hero and Penny and Odyssey, for Hero’s loyal dog. On the other, she mixes in anachronistically modern language (“It’s not dark enough yet to jet,” one runaway slave says) and makes that dog (played with off-the-leash comedic flare by Patrena Murray) a hilarious flesh-and-blood character and source of necessary comic relief in the final act.

Parks has found suitable partners in the effective staging of director Jo Bonney, the simple but evocative set designs of Neil Patel, and Esosa‘s costume designs, which mix henleys and sneakers with floor-length skirts and soldiers’ uniforms.

Parks has conceived “When Father Comes Home From the Wars” as the first trilogy in a nine-play cycle that will eventually extend to the present day. But it’s already clear that the legacy of slavery will be hard to shake, both for the indignities and wrongs visited upon African-Americans — and, perhaps more tellingly, for the wrongs they may have inflicted upon each other.


Happy Birthday Sterling!

April 05, 2016

Wishing the crazy talented Sterling K. brown a very Happy Birthday! Check him out in his west coast debut tonight of Father Comes Home From the Wars: Parts 1,2 & 3. It will be showing from now until May 15 at LA’s Mark Taper Forum. You can purchase tickets HERE.


Sterling K. Brown Knows His ’90s Hip-Hop But Listens to KIDZ BOP Nowadays

March 31, 2016


The 1990s will forever seem like they weren’t all that long ago, but as the years go by, reenacting the decade has become more involved — less engaging in simple nostalgia and more putting on a bona fide period piece. The inexorable march of time is clear in the FX series American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson (airing Tuesdays at 10 p.m. EST), which dramatizes the infamous trial that captivated a nation, from the white Bronco chase to Simpson’s eventual acquittal.

Sure, most of the fashion choices from the era have aged like a fine milk, but the musical cues certainly hold up. During one crucial moment, the introduction of the “Dream Team” defending Simpson, the show calls on Above the Law’s “Black Superman” in an amazing (if on-the-nose) montage. The larger themes of The People v. O.J., and the music that helps score the show, aren’t mere relics of the ’90s, though; the program constantly notes the similarities between the complex, racially charged trial and today’s cultural climate. It’s a fascinating look back at a familiar time — in more ways than one.

Actor Sterling K. Brown plays Christopher Darden, one of the prosecutors during the Simpson trial, who was heavily criticized at the time for being a black man seemingly out to get one of his own, and for teeing up defense attorney Johnny Cochran’s infamous “if the glove don’t fit, you must acquit” zinger. Brown, who has also appeared in Army Wives and Supernatural, was a college student in Northern California back when the trial took place, and remembers what it was like living through such an iconic moment in history — and how the culture has and hasn’t changed since. SPIN got on the phone with Brown to discuss his role on The People v. O.J. Simpson, the trial’s effect on American culture, the albums he was listening to back in the ’90s, and why he doesn’t really get the chance to listen to new music today.

What was the first album you ever bought?
Ah, oh my goodness. It’s probably Michael Jackson. Maybe Off the Wall or Thriller. Michael Jackson was a king and reigned supreme throughout the ’80s, so it has to be one of those two albums.

How old were you during the O.J. trial?
It lasted over, like, 15 months, so 18 to 19 years old.

What were you listening to back then?
I was at Stanford University up in the West Coast Bay Area, so the biggest song of my freshman year was “I Got 5 on It” by Luniz, and the “I Got 5 on It” remix was the joint that everybody was jamming constantly. And then it was also at that particular time that I became a fan of the Wu-Tang Clan. [Their debut album] 36 Chambers was ridiculous — Method Man, Tical; Cuban Linx, Raekwon. But that came out, along with Luniz, and then there was Rappin’ 4-Tay, whose hit was “Playaz Club.” A couple other artists got played during my freshman year of college, but Wu-Tang still endures to me.

What do you think the real Chris Darden was listening to back then? I know you never got a chance to actually meet with him.
[Laughs.] I don’t think Chris Darden was listening to Wu-Tang Clan, I’ll tell you that much. Definitely, like, Motown, oldies. We played a little bit of the Isley Brothers on the show; Isley Brothers seems like it would be right up his alley. But yeah, his brother had a lot of wax from the ’60s and ’70s that he grew up listening to himself.

Has working on The People v. O.J. Simpson changed the way you remember the ’90s?
It’s so interesting thinking about the ’90s as a period piece and doing it, I didn’t realize my suit was just that baggy. Ties were very colorful. We were making a statement with what we wore around our necks. But I look back at the ’90s fondly. I think it was a coming-of-age sort of time for me personally and doing the show is interesting to be back in that time and that place.

What are you listening to now?
Right now, I got a 4-and-a-half-year-old and I got a 6-month-old. Two boys. Any time I have Sirius radio on, or any time I try to listen to the throwback station and whatnot, the profanity comes on and I have to change the channel. So I’ve been listening to a lot of KIDZ BOP lately. Although, when I go to the gym and I’m working out, I like to rock out to Pharrell radio, I like to listen to Kanye and Bey. I love me some Kendrick Lamar, love J. Cole. But other than that, it’s kids’ covers of popular music.

How do you think that pop culture today would respond to the O.J. trial if it happened now? It’d be really interesting to see Kanye, Kendrick, or Run the Jewels tackle such a charged, touchstone event.
It’s so interesting, man, because I feel like what happened with the trial in ‘94 — two years after the Rodney King beating, the level of unrest that black Los Angelenos had with law enforcement, etc. — really set the tone for the show. It was a situation where I think the right message was being delivered with the wrong messenger. There were crooked cops, there was a lot of unrest, and the way in which black America experiences law enforcement in general is very different than mainstream America.

I would hope that if the trial were to come up today, the way in which pop culture would respond would be able to distinguish the difference between the trial itself — O.J. Simpson’s role or possible role in the double-homicide with Nicole and Ron — and the level of police unrest that’s running wild throughout the country. Because a lot of black men have lost their lives at the hands of law enforcement, especially over the last two years where we’ve had the ocular proof of all that loss of life. And so I know people would be speaking about that and have been speaking about that very strongly. I would hope that the case itself wouldn’t be pulled again into that particular context.

Do you think there was a reason why that didn’t happen back in ’94, ’95?
Well, I think O.J. Simpson was a very prominent figure in the African-American community. He was sort of a manifestation of the American dream: “If it can happen for him, it can happen for me.” So the level of possessiveness and the care that I think that black folks take with regards to their idols — people that they look up to — is very, very strong. And the idea of someone trying to tear him down and make him guilty is something that they weren’t ready to see.

I have one more question, but before I get to it, is there anything else that you want to say about playing Chris Darden, or the trial, or the show?
I’ll say this: Sarah Paulson and Marcia Clark have a relationship with one another; they got a chance to meet throughout the course of the show. I was thinking something like that might be possible for me and Chris Darden but it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen and I’ve made my peace with that. I hope maybe when it’s all said and done, he would like to break bread or grab a beverage with the guy who played him on the TV show. So I’m just saying: Chris, if you’re open to it, I’m available.

Well, my last question kind of plays off of that. Would you say it’s fair to say you ship Darden and Marcia Clark?
Do I ship them? [Laughs.] I mean, look, the history of what it is, they didn’t ultimately wind up with one another. Although they care about one another. Still to this day, when I talked to Marcia Clark, she said she couldn’t have made it through that process without Darden by her side. And I’ve gotten a lot of stuff on Twitter about “I ship Marcia and Chris.” And I think Sarah and I kind of came up with “Darcia” as our celebrity couple name.

I love Sarah Paulson and I love having the opportunity to work with her. If we do ship them, then hopefully I get a chance to work with Sarah again. I’ll go ahead and say yes just so I can work with Paulson one more time.


SKB Serious Contender to win Emmy after ‘Manna from Heaven’

March 31, 2016


While much of the Emmy buzz surrounding FX’s limited series “The People v. O.J. Simpson” has centered around A-listers Sarah Paulson, Courtney B. Vance and John Travolta, a quiet, understated performance has emerged in recent weeks that’s impassioned our awards-savvy forum posters: Sterling K. Brown as Christopher Darden.

In fact, following Tuesday’s penultimate episode “Manna from Heaven,” our user mafro987 wrote in our TV forum, “Stunning acting from Sterling K. Brown who is a serious contender for his award now. I had no idea that ‘Marcia Marcia Marcia’ was not the best episode they had in this brilliant fable-like tale.”

Brown has been TV’s go-to guest star in recent years from everything like “The Good Wife” and “Supernatural” to one my personal faves “Alias.” However, the versatile actor has yet to earn an Emmy nomination. Will his role as emotional prosecutor Darden help him break through this year?

Atypical: Paulson, Vance, and Brown continue to impress. Excellent work! They’re going after that Emmy hard, and if the season finale sticks its landing, I think it’s winning outright.

AayaanUpadhyaya: Oh my god. You guys, this might just beat “Fargo” for miniseries, too. (Although I still think “Fargo” has the edge). This was a stellar, stellar episode. Brilliant acting. Sterling K. Brown is getting that nomination. Paulson keeps getting stronger and stronger.

CourtneySmith: Sterling K. Brown is incredible in this series. He definitely got a nomination after this week’s episode.

KylieistBoi: This should get at least seven acting nominations and three wins for Sarah Paulson, Courtney B. Vance and Sterling K. Brown.


Added “TV Guide” Scan

March 31, 2016

Added a scan from TV Guide on 04/04/16.

SKB to Appear on “The Real” Monday (Check out the Stills)

March 12, 2016

Added 6 stills from Sterling’s appearance on the talk show The Real which you can see this Monday. Check here for your local showtimes HERE.

How ‘American Crime Story’ Changed Scene-Stealing SKB’s Mind About OJ

March 10, 2016


“It’s my responsibility to be an advocate for my character, so it’s hard for me to see things different than how Christopher Darden sees him. And Christopher Darden sees O.J. Simpson as someone guilty of murder, twice.”

According to a 1995 Washington Post poll 71 percent of African-Americans believed that O.J. Simpson was innocent of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. In 1995, actor Sterling K. Brown was one of those people. In 2016, though, that’s no longer necessarily the case. That’s because Brown just got done playing Christopher Darden, one of the prosecutors who represented the people in “The People v. O.J. Simpson,” the first installment of the Ryan Murphy-produced anthology series “American Crime Story.”

As Darden, Brown is a quiet yet fierce figure caught between the pursuit of justice and the black community which rallied around the opposing side. Darden also, as depicted in the series, developed a close bond with co-prosecutor Marcia Clark (played by Sarah Paulson) — a relationship which had even co-stars John Travolta and Courtney B. Vance speculating about what might have really happened. It all comes together for a performance which might be the real anchor of the entire series; a performance from, in Brown’s words, “the one lawyer on this thing who actually had to audition for his role.”

Sitting down with Indiewire at the TCA Winter Press Tour, Brown recalled the process by which he got the part, his memories of just how profoundly the real Simpson case impacted him and all the things he would want to thank the real Christopher Darden for surviving. An edited transcript is below.

So, congratulations on all this coming together. I imagine there’s a weird thrill in watching an episode and seeing your name first in the credits.

You know what’s interesting? I haven’t watched any. I’ve seen nothing. I tried to get a link but I didn’t have it, or somebody used up all the links for all the other computers they were watching it on, so I’ve seen absolutely nothing. But my friend [Bryan Tyree Henry] who’s on the TV show “Atlanta” for FX, saw it, and he’s like, “Dude, your name’s first!” So, that’s exciting to hear.

I love that you guys know each other. It’s a nice little FX family.

Dude, the fact that we both booked shows on the same year, on the same network — we go back 10 years. It’s incredibly thrilling for the both of us to be here today, together.

Congratulations! I mean, in general, talk to me about how you ended up in this role.

Oh, god, I mean, it was pilot season. Literally a year ago, I remember going into Jeanne McCarthy’s office to audition for this role. That’s right, I’m the one lawyer on this thing that actually had to audition for his role. And I remember thinking, when the audition came, and I started going on YouTube and looking up Darden and what not, I went and looked at myself in the mirror, and I was like, “Huh?” and I immediately cut my hair off. I immediately shaved my head, and I said, “I think this could play.”

I went and got my fake audition glasses that I wear to auditions — they’re fake, because they’re just the frames so I don’t cause any reflection for the camera — I went over the material and I listened to his voice and the way in which he spoke and I said, “Okay, this seems like something that could work.”

I went in for the audition, like any other pilot audition. Every actor during pilot season sees that brass apple hanging up above them, hoping that they can pick the fruit and take a bite. I auditioned and I felt good about my audition. Then it wasn’t for three or four months that I heard anything, at all. And then all of a sudden I heard, “We want you to do a chemistry read with Sarah Paulson.” Then that got canceled and they said, “Well, we have to fly you back to LA” because I was working on a Tina Fey movie, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot,” at the time. And they went, “We’re going to fly you back to LA to read with Brad [Falchuk] and Nina [Jacobson],” who are two producers on the show. And I came back, I’m sitting at Fox and I’m looking around to see what other brothers are here to audition to test for the role. Any time a black guy walks by, I was like, “He doesn’t really look like Darden.”

You know, that’s a different choice, that’s a different way to go with it. [laughs] But I was the only person they had brought back to read for the network. And this was my second time with FX — being the only person who they had seen for a role. My first series regular was on a TV show called “Starved,” which was so many years ago, and I was the only guy they brought in. So I go in, I read, it goes well. The next day I hear I got the job, and I rejoiced. [laughs]

It’s interesting that you didn’t end up having to do the chemistry read with Sarah Paulson, because your relationship is so central. Was that something you were anticipating, going in?

Absolutely. I mean when you read the books and you remember, 20 years ago, the jokes that people would make about Marcia and Chris, et cetera — even reading his book, he says that at the beginning of the trial they had a cursed relationship, but by the time it was over they were wonderful friends who loved each other dearly. And that was sort of my relationship with Sarah. I knew her work, I was a fan of her work and had a huge talent crush. But I can call her my friend right now, and I am so pleased I got the chance to work with her. And very pleased we got along with each other, because if we didn’t, that would have made for a very difficult working experience. [laughs] Very much so.

Very much so. [laughs] I talked earlier to [Paulson] about how this particular experience was such a tough one, especially with everything that gets heaped on your characters — I heard her compare it to being war buddies.
[Paulson’s exact quote: “I don’t think enough of us know too much about what they felt for each other in their hearts. What I can say with confidence is that they were in a war together and that bond will forever be.”]

Yeah, we went through the trenches. I mean, there were times where we, as co-prosecutors for this case, we would look at the choices that were made by the defense — some of Ito’s rulings in terms of allowing the defense latitude to do X, Y and Z — and we would look at each other like, “This is some BS, why is this happening the way that it’s happening?” And we had a line in the script at one point in time, that I don’t think made it to the final draft, where we said, “No one will ever know what this experience is like, except for the two of us.” I think it was ultimately cut but I stand by that line. Nobody could know what that experience is like, except Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden.

In terms of the actual trial, what was your personal connection to the case? Were you following it at the time?

I followed it. I was a freshman at Stanford University, so I didn’t follow it too closely, because I didn’t want to flunk out of school and embarrass my entire family, but there’s no way that you could avoid it in its entirety. I will say when the verdict came out, the world stopped, essentially. I was living in the African-American themed house at Stanford University, called Ujamaa. And every one of the theme houses have 50 percent of the ethnicity and then 50 percent “other.” So we were in the large lounge in Ujamaa watching this verdict come down, and the black people in the university cheered. Overjoyed. And the “others” looked at us like, “Why are you cheering? This is crazy.” So it was the first time I can remember seeing so decisively, on a magnum scale, the divide between how black America experienced that case and their perspectives of America in general, and how white America had a very different experience. It’s really been interesting to look back on. I will say this: It has been a very interesting conversation starter, any time I go to a party where people ask me, “What’s your current project?” Across the board, people love to introduce their theories of how it all went down. I would say that that pans out in terms of black folks and white folks coming up with theories for why he didn’t do it and theories for why he did.

Having gone through all the research, having gone through this production, has your opinion about the case changed?

I believe it has. I mean first and foremost, it’s my responsibility to be an advocate for my character, so it’s hard for me to see things different than how Christopher Darden sees him. And Christopher Darden sees O.J. Simpson as someone guilty of murder, twice.

I believe, as a young black man, it was very easy to get caught up in the frustration of just being a black male in America and not seeing myself as being protected or served by the police in general. It was very easy to see how police misconduct could have easily played a part in the attempt to frame someone.

You know, you have these experiences where you’re driving in a car, you’re minding your own business, going to a friend’s house and you get pulled over by a cop because you’re the wrong color and you don’t seem to fit the profile of who should live in this neighborhood. And people are angry. It was two years after Rodney King and the Los Angeles Police Department was caught on tape — for one of the first times — brutally beating a man who couldn’t even defend himself. So at the time, I didn’t know if O.J. Simpson was guilty or not guilty. But I knew that the criminal justice system in my mind had finally worked for someone who looked like me, and that was the thing that was most important.

Twenty years later, having the opportunity to walk through Mr. Darden’s shoes, the thing that was missed then — something that I acutely feel now — is that two people had their lives brutally taken away from them. And that shouldn’t occur as an afterthought. That should be the thing that is first and foremost in the consciousness of all Americans. These people, who could not defend themselves, were brutally murdered and according to Mr. Darden, they were brutally murdered by O.J. Simpson. So yes, my opinion has changed.

You have a couple of really key scenes early in the series, especially before you’re officially on the case, where you’re expressing a lot of really interesting ideas about what O.J. Simpson represents in black America. When you first read those, what was your reaction?

It made sense. There’s a time when it was an event for a black person to be on television. Where black households would gather around, “Oh, you know, Sammy Davis is going to be on ‘All in the Family’ tonight! Let’s go check it out!” It was a big, big thing. So here you have this man who is a larger than-life icon, who is a Heisman trophy winner, rushing leader in the NFL, who’s a star of TV and commercials and films, et cetera. He was an icon. So whether or not he gave back to the community, as Mr. Darden so aptly points out that he really did not, his image was still very powerful in terms of representing what was possible for black men in this country. As a young kid, the Juice was the Juice!

I think something that’s captured really well in the show is the fact that, for many people, he was an idol — and then the first time you meet Marcia Clark, she doesn’t know who he is.

It makes perfect sense for Sarah because she knows football from nothing.

Would you be explaining stuff to her on set?

I would explain some things and then she would say, “I don’t care.” [laughs]

I read that you weren’t able to talk to Christopher Darden at all. Is that something where if you would have had the opportunity, you would have really wanted it?

Absolutely. I would have wanted it and hopefully, if and when he watches the show, maybe there’s still an opportunity, even though it won’t affect the performance now — because the performance is done. But I would still love to meet him. I have tremendous respect for Christopher Darden and I recognize him as an individual of integrity, who did his job to the best of his ability, and I want to tell him thank you. Thank you for enduring hatred from his own community, for being ostracized, and called an Uncle Tom and a sellout. Things that he did not deserve because he cares for and loves black people so much. . . I would just like to tell him thank you for that.

At the end of this, where do you hope people land in terms of the story?

I hope people are entertained because it is a show, but I also hope that the entertainment can hook them into being educated and I hope mainstream America recognize privilege when they have it and admit to that. Recognize racism when they see it and admit that it’s real. And it’s not always one of those things that is in the forefront of people’s consciousness. Sometimes we have unconscious reactions to people that we’re not aware of, but you have to check yourself when you see that reaction and ask if it’s founded or unfounded and see that your experience of the world is different than somebody else’s. We need to start having legitimate empathy for the way in which we all experience this world. If the show can help that conversation, then I think it’s a show well-made.


Page 1 of 3912345...102030...Last »