photo by Jay Paul
Taamu Wuya as John, Jerold Solomon as Simon and Max Eddy as Caleb
Matthew Lopez’s The Whipping Man opens on the eve of Passover in 1865 with Caleb DeLeon, a Jewish Confederate veteran, returning on a gangrenous leg to his wrecked family mansion in prostrate, smoldering Richmond. He finds two former slaves, Simon and John, whom Caleb has known since they were boys.
“I’m fascinated with the Jewish culture in the South, which is unique in itself,” says director Debra Clinton. “Central to the play is the idea of freedom and hope and who is free, and what does that mean, ‘to be free.’ There’s also the idea of faith, and how that sustains us, and the many forms that faith may take. The play is about the relationships of these three men and how they become aware of the changes in their circumstances.”
The show features Max Eddy (who appeared in Virginia Rep's RED) in the role of Caleb, Jerold Solomon (Mister in last summer's The Color Purple) as Simon, and Virginia Rep newcomer Taamu Wuya as John.
Lopez, the son of Florida teachers, is from a family of Civil War buffs. A 2011 New York Times feature says that “as a gay man, bullied as a child and closeted until college, he is familiar with the pain of being an outsider, which helps when probing issues of self-definition and discrimination.” The show has a long history, premiering in Montclair, N.J., in 2006 and receiving its Off-Broadway run in 2011. Its arrival here is appropriate during the 150th anniversary year of the end both of the war and slavery.
The Virginia Repertory Theatre production, running Feb. 13 to March 8, is a collaboration with the Weinstein JCC and the American Civil War Center at Tredegar. On Feb. 22, Virginia Rep will hold a panel discussion after the 2 p.m. performance with representatives of the American Civil War Center and members of the Jewish community. In addition, there will be "Four Thought" discussions 30 minutes before the shows each Sunday from Feb. 15 to March 8, led by Waite Rawls or Christy Coleman, co-chief executive officers of the American Civil War Center. $38 to $46. 282-2620 or va-rep.org.