Set in 1865, at the tail end of the American Civil War, THE WHIPPING MAN explores the tension between freed slaves and their former masters. Written by Matthew Lopez, THE WHIPPING MAN opened in 2006 and broke records with a sold-out run at the Manhattan Theatre Club. It is rapidly becoming one of the most performed pieces of contemporary theatre in America. The show is directed locally by Giovanna Sardelli in the very versatile Cleveland Play House’ Second Stage. This production is staged in a thrust configuration, putting the audience up close and personal with the action.
During the time of slavery, some slaves adopted the religious beliefs of the family they served. In this case, it’s Judaism. When Caleb, the son of a Jewish southern plantation owner, returns home from the civil war around passover, he finds himself under the medical care of his families’ slave Simon. His wounded leg needs to ‘come off’ and Simon is tasked with the gruesome surgery. As time goes by, the relationships between Simon and his families’ former slaves are explored, scandal, heartbreak, and enlightenment ensue.
For me the real stars of the show are Avery Glymph (John) and Russell G. Jones (Simon). Glymph’s grasp of his character, this is after all his second time playing this role, is incredible to watch. His brash confidence and command of the script and the story are a delight. Jones is the heart and soul of THE WHIPPING MAN. His down-to-earth charm and new found post Civil War confidence no doubt capture the spirit of this transformative era in American history.
The staging of The Whipping Man immediately transports you to 1865 as parts of the southern United States, in this case Richmond, lie in ruins after a war that tore the nation in two. Robert Mark Morgan’s set is incredible, deep and technically perfect. James C. Swonger’s sound is based on the original design by Jill Bc Du Boff, and is phenomenal.
THE WHIPPING MAN is powerful, moving, well-produced and deep. If you want to take a trip back and time and learn a bit about yourself in the process, do not miss this show. THE WHIPPING MAN runs on Cleveland Play House’s Second Stage through December 2nd. Tickets and information are online at ClevelandPlayHouse.com