BWW Reviews: The New Jewish Theatre's Powerful Production of THE WHIPPING MAN
Playwright Matthew Lopez's The Whipping Man is a genuinely intriguing look at religion and the aftereffects of emancipation that is set in the days following the end of the Civil War. It examines a subject unfamiliar to most, and that's the fact that there were slaves on plantations that were raised in the Jewish faith. Informative and powerful, it's been given a wonderful staging by the New Jewish Theatre.
Set in Virginia in the remains of the ravaged DeLeon plantation, the play begins with Caleb DeLeon's unexpected arrival. He's a Confederate soldier who's been wounded and returns to his home hobbled and riding a horse that is barely able to make the journey before it collapses and dies. Caleb finds his homestead a burnt shell of its former glory, and encounters two former slaves inhabiting the remnants. One, Simon, is a wise and devout older man who advises Caleb to get treatment for a wound that's become gangrenous. The other former slave, John, was once like a brother to Caleb before Caleb's father decided they were getting too close and took him to see "the whipping man". All this takes place as the Passover holiday arrives and their shared faith is put to the test.
Austin Pierce is very good as Caleb, harboring secrets and a sense of shame that acts to sour his outlook. He's been through hell, but he still can't shake the pain of war, or the secrets he keeps inside. Gregory Fenner engages as John, and he brings a genuine feeling of anger to the role that energizes his portrayal. Fenner is especially strong as he recalls his trip to see "the whipping man". J. Samuel Davis does excellent work as Simon, keeping the peace as best he can, while trying to remain true to his faith.
Director Doug Finlayson does a fine job drawing intense and believable performances from his talented team of actors. The scenic design of John C. Stark is very well done, deftly constructing the ruins of a plantation that has been thoroughly damaged by both the North and the South, and it comes complete with rainfall. Michael Sullivan's lighting adds drama and atmosphere to the proceedings, and Michele Friedman Siler's costumes nicely evoke the period.
The New Jewish Theatre's production of The Whipping Man is very well done and definitely worthy of your time and attention. It continues through February 16, 2014.
Photo Credit: John Lamb