Tuesday June 27th 2017

“The Whipping Man”

whipping11-400x266 It isn’t often that a play reveals a great deal about history that has somehow escaped most of our lives. In “The Whipping Man”, by Matthew Lopez, now on stage at Northlight Theatre in Skokie, we are taken back to the end of the Civil War and a Jewish household where the slaves were treated as Jews. In fact, during this period, as it turns out the Jewish population was starting to grow as many Europeans made their way to America, to escape pogroms and religious discrimination. Those that settled in the South became slave owners as they assimilated into the American way of life ( during these times). While it is strange for a people who were in fact slaves themselves during Egyptian times to take on this ownership of people, in order to blend and not stand out, it would make sense to do so.

Because of their past history, they were probably more lenient than the others, allowing their slaves to be able to learn and partake of the Jewish rites and traditions. This is the story of one of these families- an orthodox Jewish family that felt that everyone who lived on their grounds would celebrate and respect the traditions they had,. As the story begins, Caleb ( Derek Gaspar) is returning home from the battles. He is wounded and seeks refuge in his home which has been torn about by the war which the South has just lost. He is found by two of the remaining slaves, now free, but with reason to stay, Simon ( a dynamic portrayal by Tim Edward Rhoze) who is still trying to find his wife, daughter and grandchild, and John ( a strong performance by Sean Parris) who is in hiding as he has killed the man known as “The Whipping Man”.

NOTE: Lopez doesn’t go into the depth of the Orthodoxy of these slaves and how it is that they know all the rituals for the holiday, Passover that is about to begin. This , a sit turns out is a strong symbol as Passover represents the freedom the Jews were seeking   as they left Egypt. Part of the rite known as the Seder, the festival dinner represents the leaving of the past and heading towards a new and FREE future. This is what these newly freed slaves are encountering as they have always been slaves and know no other way to exists. i think that as strong as this script is, it lacked a bit on this portion. As to “The Whipping Man”, he was hired to whip any slaves who did wrong in order to set an example and stave off and revolts by the slaves as many of the owners went to war, leaving no power at their homestead.

During the course of this story, which is inspired by the life of David Camden DeLeon, a Jewish Doctor who was involved in the war between the states, but we do not get as deep into the facts as Lopez tells his story. Caleb as it turns out has woulds that cause his leg to be amputated by Simon and so he spends a great deal of time recovering from having it sawed off. As he recovers and they prepare for the Passover holiday feast, using anything they can find to substitute for tradition ( most of which is procured by John), we begin to learn the secrets of their lives. Where Simon’s family is? What happened to Caleb! Why John cannot leave and yet cannot stay. There is a lot to learn from these characters and the situation that has brought them closer together. When one thinks about the times- an end to a war and to slavery, a sort of Exodus for the Black slaves that is very akin to what the Jews lived through many  years before. The story is strong and the actors make each character appear to be real. Directed by Kimberly Senior on a masterful set by Jack Magaw. Christine A. Binder’s lighting depicts the candle/lantern darkness that would have been the experience these men would have had and the sound(Christopher Kriz) and costumes (Rachel Laritz) complete the total picture that Lopez and Senior have painted.

During these days of the story, President Lincoln was assassinated and the country was in turmoil, but that is just a side note to a story that concentrates on these three men and the secrets they had and share during the two acts ( 2 hours and 15 minutes with a 15 minute intermission). There is no question that this play opens up some great topics to investigate and discuss with the family and friends. In fact, with Passover creeping up on us, it may be one of the items to discuss during this year’s Seder. “Why was this Seder different than any other” is one of the four questions ( real line is ” why is this night different form all other nights” asked by the youngest male at the table) but inn reality in this production, the question and answer is not what we have in our Haggadah ( prayer book for the Seder). Nick Heggestad has once again come up with a great many props ( amazing) which most audience members do not take into account for enriching the full production, but, let me tell you, this is  a major task and one that allows the total picture to be just that a total picture!

“The Whipping Man” will continue at Northlight Theatre located at The NorthShore Center For Performing Arts building ,9501 Skokie Blvd. in Skokie ( just south of Golf Road) through February 24th with performances as follows:

Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m.,Wednesdays 1 and 7:30 p.m., Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.,Fridays at 8 p.m.,Saturdays at 2:30 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 and 7 p.m.

Tickets range from $25 to $72 and there are no bad seats in this venue. Students can purchase tickets for any performance at $15 ( subject to availability)

To order tickets, you can visit the box office, call 847-673-6300 or go to wwww.northlight.org

There is plenty of free parking as well as valet and lots of dining spots in the area.

To see what others say, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to review round-up and click onto The Whipping Man”

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