Powerful First Preview of THE WHIPPING MAN

We’ve been on a blogging hiatus, what with Passover coming on the heels of the close of NEW JERUSALEM and our Spinozium, and then the intense run up to tech rehearsals, dress rehearsal, and now the very first public performance of our production of Matthew Lopez’s fine and powerful play, THE WHIPPING MAN.  A virtually sold out first preview audience leapt to their feet at the show’s end to shower appreciation on this extraordinary work — and this very special production.

Here are two recent preview features on our production, which is taking place at the same time that Center Stage of Baltimore runs their own quite wonderful, quite different production.

Here’s an interview in DC Theatrescene.

Here’s a feature on both productions in The Forward.

And here’s the Washington Post’s fine review of the CenterStage production.

Eager for your earlier comments!  Share them below, in our Comments section.

4 thoughts on “Powerful First Preview of THE WHIPPING MAN

  1. This semester began with a POW, and ended with a big BANG!

    I thought THE WHIPPING MAN was a fantastic show, I thought it brought out a diverse and talented cast which was a perfect way to end the semester. I would say, that I feel different ways about the various elements of the play.

    Lets start with the special effects:

    Maybe they had nothing to do with the show itself, (as in they were not planned/meant to do this) but the smoke (fog) in the beginning of the play was left on too long and began to make some of the audience sick, I personally had a headache for the beginning part of the show. I would smell each time they lit a match to turn on the civil war era lighting in the houses (which was awesome) but the smell did add to the sensory details, however not sure if it added much. Lastly, the door that was left open made me cold, and I could actually feel it during the curtain call towards the end. Although it could have been because of the A/C that was left on.

    out of all the actors, my personal favorite was probably Simon, who had a deep voice, and strong and caring personality. I thought during the beginning of the play when he chose to take care of his “masters son” was more than what John would have done for him. Even though John was really what made everyone laugh, with his new discoveries of household items.

    Overall, I think the play is a good work in progress, and based on the audience reaction, has the potential to be a great masterpiece in the months ahead.

    • Hasan, I love that you talked about all of the effects! I completely agree about the door being left open at the end– I genuinely felt colder and could not help but to think someone did crank the AC just to make us feel the could with the scene. Regardless, I thought it was brilliant. I also loved the rain sound. It did not come off as cheesy or contrived and had the same tone-setting effect that the rainwater had in the skylight of the Time Stands Still set. To add to your comments about the matches, I think that the smell was important, but it also gave the actors an activity with real life outcomes which I really enjoy in a play.

  2. THE WHIPPING MAN was a phenomenal way to end our semester of theatre going! I am a history major and one of my favorite eras is the civil war and reconstruction. Being from Michigan, I get a very pro-union view of the war and have always longed for to sit in on a history class in Atlanta Georgia for a different perspective. The playwright, Matthew Lopez, offers us a window into the post-war experiences of the south, and adds in the faith dimension for an even more complex narrative.

    As it was brought up after the play, the entire idea of southern Jewish slaveholders was new to me. Jewish slaves, although it would somewhat follow if their masters were Jewish, was yet another completely foreign idea to me. The religious aspect of the play seemed to me to sit on the surface like oil that wouldn’t quite mix in without serious work. In fact, to me, there were almost two plays sharing the same cast and stage: one about post-war devastation in the south, and one about Jews falling on hard times.

    I felt like we did not hear enough about Caleb was affected as a Jew in the Confederacy, or how this Jewish family came to settle in the south and own slaves. I admit, the tensions and connections that this piece of the story added were deep and meaningful. One of the moments that stands out to me is during the Seder when Caleb reluctantly thrusts his cup at Simon so that he too may participate. You could feel Caleb’s desire to be included but disinterest due to the more immediate matter of his amputation and the shame that surrounded the home-done procedure.

    What I loved most were the more nuanced pieces of the production. I do not know whether to thank playwright or director, but moments the audience witnesses the characters beginning to understand their new roles in a post-war, post-amputation world. One moment I love is when Caleb, injured and owing his life to Simon and John lies helplessly on the sofa, reflexively hands his dish to Simon after super is finished. John and Simon then react to the action and the three men share an uncomfortable moment when each is acutely aware of that things are no longer as they once were.

    I found this play moving and complex, and I especially loved that it captures such an interesting and important moment in the history of the American south. A truly excellent way to end the semester.

  3. “The Whipping Man” is one of the best new works I have seen during my time here in Washington. Every element of the production worked to elevate the acting, allowing the three men onstage to tell a wonderful story. I had my doubts going into this play. The cast consisted of three actors, all men, two of them young. I was worried that these limited characters wouldn’t be enough to provide a compelling story. I became even more concerned after it seemed one of the characters would be immobile for the majority of the play. Fortunately, I was incredibly wrong. All three of the actors delivered brilliant performances. I had been able to see Alexander Strain perform a few weeks earlier in “New Jerusalem” and was very excited to see his work again. His performance as Caleb was wonderful. Despite his limited mobility, he exuded great emotion and provided a wonderful contrast to the other characters of John and Simon. His love of his home is very apparent. Having grown up in Michigan I was unsure of how I would react to a character who fought for the confederacy in the Civil War, yet Strain acted the part in such a way that it was very clear he was fighting for his home and what he knew and loved.
    This sense of purpose made Caleb easier to empathize with than John, the other young man. He proves himself to be a thief and a liar during the course of the play. This sort of backlash was understandable given he had just been emancipated, but I found myself having little respect for him. I agree with a comment made during the talkback that in contrast to Caleb and John, Simon seems to good to be true. While his struggles are revealed during the play, he never seems to do anything wrong because of the hardships in his life. Even though I reacted to the characters this way, I must say that all three of the actors did a wonderful job. I found myself constantly engaged in their stories and struggles, and having serious sympathy for each of their circumstances at the play’s end.

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