Saturday, March 26, 2011

In 'The Whipping Man,' Also Freeing Hurts

Jay Wilkison, Andre Braugher and Andre Holland as three men at a crossroads in "The Whipping Man." Photos by Joan Marcus.


AS Matthew Lopez’s “The Whipping Man”
begins, a badly wounded Caleb DeLeon (Jay Wilkison) creeps surreptitiously into his pillaged childhood home.

When Simon (Andre Braugher) discovers him in the house he blesses him with a Hebrew prayer.

“The Whipping Man,” at Manhattan Theatre Club at City Center Stage I until 10 April, explores the relationship between a Jewish Confederate soldier returned from the war and the freed slaves of his household. In doing so, it showcases subtle truths about decency and dignity. (See audience interviews and scenes from “The Whipping Man” at

Jay Wilkison and Andre Braugher in "The Whipping Man."

The rest of the household has moved on to safety elsewhere. Simon has remained in Richmond to guard the property from further damage at the request of Caleb’s mother. He is also awaiting the return of his wife, Sarah, and their daughter before moving on as a free man.

It is April 1865. Simon and John (Andre Holland), another former slave of the DeLeon household, are newly emancipated. Since they were brought up in the DeLeon household, they, like their former masters, are Jews. Passover is late this year, and Simon intends to celebrate with what little they have in the house. For Simon and John, the Passover ritual this year will reinforce the joy of their liberation.

While the seder is a happy occasion, it is also rendered bittersweet by certain realities. The war has tested Caleb’s faith and has ravaged his body. He must rely on his former slaves to save his life.

But John is more than a former slave. He and Caleb are contemporaries. As boys, they were inseparable, almost like brothers, as Simon says. However, their relationship as men is fraught with the ugliness of master and slave. In fact, all of their relationships are tainted by their past.

The entire cast of “The Whipping Man” is suitably fine, but AB is inspired. He makes clear that Simon’s pride at his new-found freedom has only added to the dignity with which this man has always lead his life.

In "The Whipping Man," the truth is revealed in subtle ways.

The drama is enhanced by the graying darkness in a richly sparse set by John Lee Beatty. The designer has fashioned a twisting staircase in the gloomy house that adds a surreal quality to the darkness that is the heart of “The Whipping Man.”

Visit to learn more about “The Whipping Man.”

‘The Milk Train’ Stops Longer Than Planned
“The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore” is stopping a little longer at the Laura Pels Theatre – until 10 April. The Roundabout Theatre Company production of the Tennessee Williams play set in an Italian mountaintop villa stars Olympia Dukakis as the outsized Flora "Sissy" Danforth who is dying and writing her memoirs. (See review at

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