Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron
The Whipping Man
Also see David's recent review of All the Way
The Whipping Man brings family issues to the surface. The story takes place at the end of the American Civil War. Caleb DeLeon (Benjamin Gregorio), a southern soldier, returns to the family mansion. His horse died outside the house and Caleb crawls inside, screaming in pain. He has a bullet in his leg.
As the first act progresses, two of the former slaves of Caleb's family appear. Simon (David Lemoyne) brings maturity and know-how to the situation. The bullet in Caleb's leg must be removed and they have no food. Simon knows how to handle the situation. John (Brian Kenneth Armour), the second former slave, appears with plenty of alcohol, two eggs, and other items he's stolen. However, he's willing to share.
The three men talk and reveal deep, dark family secrets. Caleb has gotten a slave girl, Sarah, pregnant. She is Simon's daughter.
Slaves usually accepted the religion of the slave owners. The DeLeon family was Jewish and Simon and John accepted the Jewish training and customs. In the final section of the story they perform a Seder ritual as best they can with their limited resources. Throughout the play, the men talk about faith and prayer, the difficulty of surviving war and destruction, and prayers that go unanswered.
Caleb and John bring many of the qualities of Jacob and Esau to this gathering. The three men wait for Caleb's father to return and give each of the men money to start their lives over after the war. Each man talks about his dream: a small house for Simon and his family; John wants to go to New York City and live; and Caleb thrashes about not really knowing what he wants from life.
The name of the play comes from a cruel manner of dealing with slaves who angered their owner. Caleb's father would send the slaves to the whipping man, who would beat the slaves, leaving large scars. At one of these whipping events, Caleb asked for the whip and beat John.
The success of this production should be credited to several people. First, Matthew Lopez, the playwright, who has an excellent list of awards and new play commissions. Second, Sean Derry, the director, seems to work theatrical magic with any script and any cast. He's superb with his work. Third, the cast may be small but they bring a big, meaningful production to the playing area.
The Whipping Man is what good theater is all about.
Through October 8, 2016, at none too fragile theater, located in Pub Bricco, 1835 Merriman Road, Akron. For tickets and information, call 330-962-5547 or visit nonetoofragile.com. The next show in the none too fragile space is scheduled to be Annapurna by Sharr White, starting November 4.
Playwright: Matthew Lopez