to A Raisin in the Sun
, the immediacy of theater has cast a light on race relations. It’s arresting to witness such dynamics live, as in Matthew Lopez’s The Whipping Man
, which takes place just as the Civil War has ended. Carter Hudson plays a wounded Confederate soldier named Caleb, who has heaved himself to his family’s gutted home in Richmond, Va. There he finds former slaves Simon (Gavin Gregory) and John (Christopher Livingston). Here’s the twist: These men are Jewish, and it’s Passover. Prodded by Simon, they hold a makeshift Seder in the half-demolished manor. That hulking house—with its moldering wallpaper, cockeyed banister and blasted-out windows—is captured perfectly by scenic designer Tony Cisek. Abetted by moody lighting and dramatic sound design, it makes for an intensely atmospheric experience. Though Lopez’s dialogue can grow didactic, the actors give such propulsive performances that the action feels vital and urgent. As John, an intellectual jokester with angry undercurrents, Livingston astonishes. In an early scene, he’s triumphant yet irreverent, grinning impishly as he dangles a flask over the writhing Caleb. But beneath, he seethes with bitter memories. As he recounts his first experience being whipped, Livingston casts his eyes downward and crams his hands in his pockets. The play also has humor. Some is unintentionally topical: Simon eats horse meat even though it isn’t kosher (take note, IKEA shoppers). When the Seder arrives, the symbolism is heavy, but wit remains. When Simon asks why Jews eat bitter herbs at the Seder, John answers dutifully: “To remind us of the bitterness of slavery.” Then he adds a weary coda: “As if we needed reminding.” In reminding us that we must not forget, The Whipping Man
leaves a powerful mark.
128 NW 11th Ave.Website: http://www.pcs.org/whipping/