BWW Reviews: THE WHIPPING MAN an Incredible and Telling Experience
Playwright Matthew Lopez is a master at weaving jaw-dropping moments of revelation with stirring soliloquies on faith and perfectly placed gems of humor. His provoking drama, "The Whipping Man," which received its Bay Area premiere this week at Marin Theatre Company, leaves the minds of viewers rolling, eager for more answers, but pleased to spend hours mulling over the motivations and choices of the play's three characters.
Wounded confederate soldier, Caleb, returns to a home in ruins. Delirious from infection and haunted by memories of death and violence, his survival depends upon former slaves, Simon and John. Their common faith ties them together as they improvise a Jewish Passover celebration, but suppressed feelings from years of slavery threaten to tip what little balance the broken household possesses.
In these moments, Lopez tastefully deals with the relationship between owner and slave, the liberated slave's open future, sex abuse before emancipation, faith's role in remembering history and its reliability in the middle of chaos and pain, man's hypocrisy and inability to obtain moral perfection, and definitions of family, forgiveness, and love. The dialogue engrosses even when the action stops, and when on-stage adrenaline rises, so does the power of the production.
L. Peter Callender carries the production as the fatherly Simon. His rousing second-act sermon on freedom gives Goosebumps, and Callender's beautiful, deep voice adds an extra dimension to the show with soulful spiritual hymn. Tobie Windham starts out with a great deal of prankster humor as John, but transforms with skill and incredible intensity as goading questions lead John to cries for justice and disorienting sorrow. Rounding out the cast, Nocholas Pelczar makes the wavering Caleb a relatable human with which the audience sympathizes and grows.
With direction by Jasson Minadakis, the three actors create a striking picture, that unfolds before a stunning set design by Kat Conley highlighted by Ben Wilhelm light design. The production will surely be the most moving theatrical experiences many audience members will ever have.
THE WHIPPING MAN
Marin Theatre Company
Through April 21
Photo Credit: Kevin Berne