by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
Jacksonville Beach’s Players by the Sea opened its final production of 2013, with Matthew Lopez’s powerful drama, “The Whipping Man.” The drama will be on stage at 106 Sixth Street North until November 23. Call 249-0289 for reservations or visit www.playersbythesea.org.
If you are a theatergoer who wants an excellent script, a director who thoroughly understands the intent of the playwright, soul stirring and flawless staging, and a stellar cast, then “The Whipping Man” is for you. Indeed, besides being a seamless blend of writing, direction, and acting, it is an educational journey.
The time is 1865, just after the Civil War has ended with the surrender of the South. The place is a wrecked palatial mansion in Richmond, Virginia. Caleb DeLeon, a badly wounded Confederate soldier, has returned home in the middle of the night. He finds his family has gone into hiding and the only occupants are two of the DeLeon’s former slaves, Simon and John. They are acting as caretakers for the property while they await the return of Caleb’s parents; Simon explains that most folks from the town are gone, but will return when it is safe.
Although Caleb is in great pain, he refuses to be transported to the nearby military hospital for treatment. Simon and John save his life by amputating his gangrenous leg, in a tense and dramatic scene. The operation takes place in the dark. Be prepared for groans and screams, since whiskey was the only anesthetic available.
This is not the usual family you read about in various stories of the Civil War. The DeLeon’s are Jewish, and the slaves they owned were brought up in the faith of their master. Simon insists they celebrate Passover with a traditional Seder, over the objections of Caleb, who has lost his faith and his belief in God after experiencing the horrors of war.
Ah, but there are many plot twists, secrets, and mysteries that we learn related to the three men and their intertwined lives. We won’t reveal them here, since we want to avoid spoilers.
KELLY ROSSBERG is brilliant as Caleb and gives an amazingly clear, detailed, and powerful portrayal of a man lurching between the past and the present. As critics we have had the opportunity to see this talented St. Augustine actor in three performances at Limelight, most recently as Sir Galahad in “Spamalot.”
EUGENE LINDSEY (Simon) and DAVID GIRARD (John) have lit up the stage at Players by the Sea Stage with many award-winning performances in both drama and musicals in the past.
As Simon, Lindsey is the older slave who has been a faithful servant to the family and a devoted follower of the Jewish faith. Simon, upon learning of the death of Abraham Lincoln, a hero to those who had been enslaved, delivers a moving monologue about meeting the famous man on one occasion.
Girard’s John provides comic relief in the first act, as he considers his new freedom as sort of a license to steal, looting the many abandoned homes in the area and providing food and drink for the trio. He becomes bitter and much more serious as his past transgressions are discussed in the second act and he contemplates his uncertain future.
The production is directed by ROXANNA LEWIS, in her debut with PBTS; be sure to read her excellent Director’s notes. Her first local community theatre endeavor was also as a director, for the outstanding “TRIANGLE FIRE FACTORY PROJECT” at Theatre Jacksonville. Ms. Lewis’s extensive theatre background in New York and Los Angeles is a welcome addition to our local stages. ANDREA BARLETTA was the Assistant Director.
The scenic design by Technical Director ROSS BRATLEE, with ANNE ROBERTS as Scenic Consultant and Artist, captures the ambiance of this spacious home that is in shambles, with a door and windows filled with glass panes, and somewhat sparse furnishings. LINDSAY CURRY was responsible for properties design.
CARL VORWERK as Lighting Designer used subtle lights that complemented the candles that were widely used for artificial illumination. JANE MILD LAROQUE’s costumes were realistic depictions of what might have been worn during the era.
Others on the creative staff included: GAYLE FEATHERINGILL (Stage Manager), BRADLEY AKERS (Sound Design), RANDALL PAYNE (Music Composition), and RON SHREVE (Production Manager).
Please read HOLLY GUTSHALL’S Dramaturgical Notes in the program for some great background information on Jewish soldiers in the Civil War. And if you are wondering about the title of the play, historically, a “whipping man” was one hired to administer physical punishment to slaves.
This is a drama that is not to be missed. Although some of the dialogue is humorous, it is also often painful, while thought-provoking throughout, as these three men face a future forever changed.
THE WHIPPING MAN
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM