Some first class acting in the service of an intriguing if not fully mature script makes THE WHIPPING MAN (now through April 8 at KC Rep on the UMKC campus) a thought-provoking two hours of theater.

Though by no means fearless or adventurous (when is the Rep gonna give up on those superlatives?), Matthew Lopez‘s new play– competently staged by Rep Artistic Director Eric Rosen— takes us back in time to what must have been one of the strangest moments in our country’s history.

It’s April, 1865.  One day, you’re a slave; the next, you’re free. One day, you’re a master– the next, just a guy with control issues.

The War Between the States (as WHIPPING MAN suggests, not that Civil an undertaking) has come to its bloody end, Lee surrendering to Grant at Appomatox. Coincidentally, it’s the first night of Passover (who knew?). Rebel soldier Caleb stumbles into his bombed out RIchmond home, a bullet in his leg. Only Simon, the family’s retainer, has remained behind, defending the homestead against the looting rabble. Caleb’s father and mother have fled, taking their slaves– Simon’s wife and daughter– with them.

Did I mention Caleb’s family was Jewish? Every Passover, for all those years, they recited the story of the exodus from Egypt– from slavery to freedom and the Promised Land. They ate a sumptuous Passover meal prepared by their—slaves. Wasn’t that just a tad hypocritical, y’all?

WHIPPING MAN probes the shifting ground between Simon and Caleb. Add to that treacherous terrain charming con man John, a slave who grew up with Caleb in the Richmond house. Simon and John may have had it better with Caleb’s family than the African-Americans who toiled in the cotton fields; but there was plenty of Tom Jefferson-style shenanigans going on under that roof. Worse, John faced the eponymous Whipping Man whenever the master felt the time had come.

Not a guy you want to turn your back on, if you know what I mean.

In this three-hander, the secrets and lies flow fast and loose– they have to, or the whole enterprise would bog down in the unrelenting rain that threatens to wash away this part of Richmond (nice job by lighting designer VIctor Tan and sound designer Andre Pluess on the thunder and lightning). Lopez veers into melodrama land with a series of startling revelations— a sophomore slip-up that I expect the playwright will grow out of with future iterations of his opus. Still, when there’s an audible "ooooh" from the audience every time Lopez turns that plot screw, you have to appreciate the craftsmanship.

In the role of Caleb, Kyle Hatley reminds us he’s one of our town’s most exciting young actors– and a good looking lad to boot (why he hasn’t tried his luck in New York or Hollywood is hard to figure out). Josh Breckenridge— fresh from a stint in Kander and Ebb’s much-admired Broadway effort THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS– makes John a likable scam-artist, smooth as silk  gliding from one petty theft to another. He’s a survivor– Breckenridge makes John the one character you’d bet on to get out of this hell hole and wind up selling moccasins to the Injuns.

But the scenery chewing prize– and I mean that in a complimentary way–  goes to Michael Genet‘s Simon. Stooped-over servant one moment, outta-my-way giant another, he personifies the strange change of circumstances and expectations we call Emancipation.  Reading high school history books, you probably never stopped to think about what it must have been like to be a slave one day and free the next. Genet and THE WHIPPING MAN provide some compelling insights into what must have been on the minds of those African-Americans, whose world turned upside down on Passover, back in 1865. 

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6 Responses to Edelman: KC REP WHIPS UP CIVIL WAR DRAMA

  1. Tired of That Whipping! says:

    Down with the Downbeat!
    When is the Rep going to give up on all this dark, grim theater and put on a play that everyone wants to see, like “Beauty and the Beast” or “Peter Pan” or “Oh Calcutta!” Now that’s theater!

  2. smartmSmartanman says:

    The first beat after the down beat is the after beat!
    Go to Starlight is you wanna see that poo-poo-ca-ca kind of THEE-AY-TER.
    Stop at Walmart on the way and pick up some Sam’s Choice beef jerky and a six pack of Old Style so you and your date can tailgate.

  3. chuck says:

    God what tripe…

    Highwoods Realty Limited Partnership recently sued two Plaza restaurants for rent and one for possession.

    SportsBarPlaza, LLC, principal for 810 Zone, was sued earlier this year for $451,862 for unpaid rent, with interest, attorney fees, and additional costs. Highwoods also sought possession of the property in which 810 Zone currently operates.

    Highwoods won a judgment for both possession and back rent.

    That company will leave the Plaza, closing its door on April 5th. 810 Zone will reopen in Summit Woods in Lee

  4. chuck says:

    Full disclosure, Hearne has been sick,
    So hand the ball off.


  5. Hearne says:

    Dear Chuck in the above first comment…
    May I respectfully request that you either change your alias and call yourself Chuck No. 2 or something like that so we don’t have this confusion over who is who?

    The Chuck in the above column has been a fixture here for like three years and has earned the rights to the name Chuck.

    There’s really no reason I can think of to muddy the waters so every time you go off, he has to wade in with “that’s not me.”

    And since your identity has yet to be established here – and I assume you’d like people to know it’s you and not him – why confuse the issue by leading most readers to assume you’re somebody else?

    As for your comment, look, I didn’t invent the world, I’m just passing through. I’m one guy. I’m not trying to be all things to all people. And while I can on occasion scoop the Star or whomever, my specialty if you will has always been digging into already reported stories in which significant and/or interesting details were left out.

    Usually because the reporters or bloggers don’t want to piss off the hand that feeds them.

    For example, local blogger Bottomline “broke” a story about the new KMBZ business station @ 1660 AM – even though it had reallty been broken weeks earlier on Gateway City. Similarly, the same blogger “broke” a story about Mike Shanin quitting the new station at the last minute and Krista Klaus taking his place.

    I have it on good authority that Bottomline was told by Shanin why he bailed at the last minute but the blogger didn’t report it, probably because he didn’t want to piss off Entercom and have them not feed him any more “exclusives” in the future.

    Frankly, that’s the price many actual reporters pay to placate sources as well.

    The obvious problem is, it leaves readers wondering what in the heck happened.

    That’s where I come in. So stay tuned for a bit and you’ll read here the story behind the story. Which frankly I think is far more interesting that the mere fact that an experimental format is being tried on a weak as a kitten, little listened to radio station.

    You the readers can and will decide, but the aforementioned media “news” site is like two million places in the Alexa rankings behind KcConfidential

  6. mouse says:

    When is the Rep going to give up on all this dark, grim theater and put on a play that everyone wants to see, like “Beauty and the Beast” or “Peter Pan” or “Oh Calcutta!” Now that’s theater!

    Seriously? “Little Shop of Horrors” is their next show, and they just did “Tom Sawyer”

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