George Street Playhouse’ first production of 2015 is a truly memorable privilege walk through a difficult time in United States history. Matthew Lopez’ “The Whipping Man” explores how a shared faith makes a family. And when the world order changes, there may be surprises in store for those who feel they are most ready to accept change on their own terms, but not on those of the world.
The year is 1865 and Caleb DeLeon, scion of a Southern Jewish family stumbles home wounded from the end of the Civil War. He hasn’t been home in a very long time and his home is hardly recognizable. The house is a half-burned hulk that has been looted, pillaged and abandoned. Or has it? As Caleb catches his breath, Simon approaches slowly with rifle raised at the intruder. Thus begins a tale of What-Is versus What-Was with a sprinkling of What-Will-Be.
Simon has run the house since Caleb’s grandfather’s time. However, he is now a free man who no longer takes orders–Caleb may be the master of the house, but he’s no longer Simon’s master. As Simon catches him up on the whereabouts of the different members of the DeLeon household, Caleb’s wound demands attention. These men are still bound by caring whether or not they are bound by law and Simon’s experience is that Caleb’s wound could be deadly if not addressed.
Enter John, another former slave who’s a contemporary of Caleb’s. John has been collecting items from the neighboring unoccupied homes–sometimes items that strike his fancy, but most often whiskey or other potent potables to feed his addiction to drink. Amazed that Caleb has made it home, John has a river of secrets running through him and a creative way of telling the truth and he plays his cards close to the vest. Complicating matters is there is someone from town searching for John–and you don’t want Freddie looking for you. John’s in trouble, with a capital “T.”
Simon’s trying to hold the house together, John’s trying to piece a house together from the parts of others homes, and Caleb’s losing physical, emotional, and spiritual parts of himself. These three men are haunting the DeLeon home as well as one another, and there are other skeletons in the closet as well.
Director Seret Scott has woven a delicate web in her vision of the connection among people. The pacing is like a symphony coming to different pre-crescendos, until the final coup de grace is delivered, leaving us as emotionally bare as each of the characters. Delicate and tangled and emotional are our lives, whether or not we admit it. And these three men share more than history and a home. Their faith binds them together as nothing else could, even in the contradiction in which they live. There are several gems in the diadem of this play that I’ll polish and remember over and over again–Caleb’s reaction to the first of many ugly what-needs-to-be-dones, Simon’s eloquence at the announcement of Lincoln’s death and his presiding over Pesach, John’s revelations and his passionate madness, and the heart of the tragedy of all their lives. Memorable, living and leaving a legacy that still resonates today.
Playing through February 15, this is a Valentine for people you love, who have a passion for change and for history. Reserve your tickets at www.georgestreetplayhouse.or
g to make sure you get a seat. This is a searing drama that will leave you wanting more–to know more and to do more. Give memories and live theater rather than chocolate and someone you love will be glad you did.