This afternoon Mike and I saw "The Whipping Man" at Portland Center Stage. We had planned to see it a few Sundays ago but postponed it until today, his 50th birthday. It wasn't exactly the most uplifting theater choice for a birthday, but no question about it: the play was an excellent, gripping drama.
It's the story of former slaves, Simon and John, and a confederate soldier (and their former master) Caleb, who all end up in Caleb's antebellum home, stripped of its former glory. The Civil War has just ended, and none of the men know what their future holds. The additional twist is that all three of them are Jewish. I was not aware of the fact that the confederate south was a more accepting place for Jews than the north, and more than 10,000 Jews fought for the confederacy. This article says more about the Jewish history of the south.
As the men unfold the secrets that bind them together, they also face serious questions about their faith in God and in humanity. It was a serious, heavy play with moments of levity. Gavin Gregory, who played Simon (the older, wiser former slave), was excellent as always and truly shone in his role. Previously we had seen him in "Ragtime" and "25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee." In a play with just three actors, the weight is heavy on each man's shoulders, and none disappointed. Carter Hudson was the deeply conflicted, traumatized soldier, and Christopher Livingston played the troubled and morally ambiguous John.
Typically when we attend weekday matinees, we are the youngest in the theater, but not today--the theater was full of two busloads of teenagers. Most of the kids were really well behaved, but a few of them sitting behind us were not particularly quiet. That was the only thing that marred the performance today for me...whispering, tittering, and kicking the back of my seat. Usually it wouldn't have bothered me so much, but in the case of such a serious, dramatic production, it did mar my engagement a bit.
This video gives you a glimpse of the power in the play. If you can, go see it! It will stick with you--I promise!