The Whipping Man Review

The Whipping Man Review

American slavery and the Civil War have been fictionalized in countless movies, dramas and novels, but Matthew Lopez offers a new twist. In his New York debut, "The Whipping Man," the young playwright imagines a southern estate in which the master and slaves are all Jewish.

Brutal Whipping of a Slave on a Plantation, from an Eyewitness Account in Virginia




Brutal Whipping of a Slave on a Plantation, from an Eyewitness Account in Virginia


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Set in 1865 in sacked and smoldering Richmond, Virginia shortly after Lee’s surrender, "The Whipping Man" focuses on two slaves and the son of their former owner. There’s the older and loyal Simon, played by Andre Braugher, and the younger, vengeful John, that’s Andre Holland. As the play opens in the burned out husk of a formerly grand manor, the son, Caleb, played by Jay Wilkison, returns with a festering bullet wound in his leg. Soon he realizes that the old order has fallen, and his former servants are free men.

Now comes the surprise: Caleb, Simon and John were all raised in a Jewish part of Richmond. What does it matter to the story? It turns out that the action begins right around Passover, the High Holy Day commemorating the release of Jews from bondage in Egypt, so the three characters hold a Seder with what few items they can scrape together or steal. The irony of celebrating this holiday with two freed slaves and their master is not lost on anyone, least of all the audience.

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