Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: MAY 20, 2010
A wounded Confederate soldier staggers into a burned-out manor house in Richmond , Virginia . It’s April, 1865. Lee surrendered at Appomattox just days before. This was the Army captain’s home, but now it’s desolate and nearly demolished. Everyone is gone — except for the Captain’s two former slaves. How these three men make peace, and get on with their lives in the aftermath of a cataclysmic historical event is the stuff of “The Whipping Man,” currently having its West coast premiere at the Old Globe. The talented young New York writer, Matthew Lopez, has just been named Playwright-in-Residence at the Globe for the next year.
His drama is intense – and intensely personal. It’s one family’s story, but it has far-reaching implications. The Civil War may be familiar ground, but this tale is told in unique and intriguing ways.
Lopez combines certainty and supposition to create a distinctive scenario. His Captain, Caleb DeLeon , is Jewish. In reality, ten thousand Jews served in the Confederate Army; and most of them owned slaves. And when urban slaveowners felt a need to punish their workers, they hired the merciless neighborhood Whipping Man. Lopez conjectures that, like their counterparts in Christian homes, some slaves adopted the Jewish faith of their masters. And he unearthed another fascinating fact: Passover fell just a day after Lee surrendered at Appomattox .
This springtime holiday celebrates the emergence from slavery to freedom, from Egypt to the Promised Land. In the barbarity of combat, Caleb seems to have lost his belief, but his former slaves, Simon and John, scramble to improvise a Passover Seder, using hard tack as matzo, whiskey for wine and collard greens as bitter herbs. As they say the prayers, and sing the old spiritual, “Let My People Go,” a parallel historical event evolves into a shared history.
From its grisly first-act leg amputation and bloodcurdling tales of the Whipping Man, to its heartfelt Seder and expressions of forbidden love, the drama is one family’s harrowing, affecting, gut-wrenching story of the toll of war and slavery.
The performances are superb, a dynamic ensemble under the muscular direction of Giovanna Sardelli . The design elements are outstanding. On the intimate arena stage of the new Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, the set, lighting, costumes and sound draw us into this shattered world where everything has changed and nothing will ever be the same. Fingers are pointed, pain is inflicted, secrets are revealed. In the powerful interactions of these three men, we’re forced to confront, once again, the scars of our collective past, and perhaps be inspired to help further the healing.
“The Whipping Man” runs through June 13, at the Old Globe in Balboa Park .
©2010 PAT LAUNER