What an auspicious start to the summer theater season.
There’s no point in dancing around the issue: If you love good theater, stop reading this right now and surf on over to Barrington Stage Co. and buy a ticket. Right now.
Matthew Lopez’s “The Whipping Man” – in the midst of its New England premiere at Barrington Stage Co.’s Stage II Theater in Pittsfield – is a small play about big issues. The intimate three-character drama tackles such important and timeless topics as war, slavery, freedom, betrayal, revenge, loyalty, prejudice and faith.
The play takes place in a former Richmond mansion over the course of three days – April 13-15, 1865 – as the recent ending of the Civil War coincides with the Jewish celebration of Passover. The liberation from bondage in both instances are powerful and resonant, as Lopez’s script and Christopher Innvar’s taut direction confront questions about Jewish Southerners who owned slaves.
The drama builds, and secrets are withheld, then revealed, as the balance power constantly shifts from one character to another. The words “master” and “slave” are turned on their heads and eventually become meaningless.
The acting from the small ensemble of players – including Nick Westrate as the rebel soldier and LeRoy McClain as his friend/rival and former slave – is uniformily strong and unflinching throughout, but it is Clarke Peters (currently starring as the Mardi Gras Indian chief Albert Lambreaux in HBO’s “Treme”) who delivers a tour de force performance full of stunning dignity and nuance.
The minimalist, eerie music and Sandra Goldmark’s marvelously claustrophobic set design help the audience focus on the huge social and political questions inherent in the play and transform them into very personal, very private torments.
See “The Whipping Man” while you can. Additional performances have been added several times since the play opened in Pittsfield on Wednesday, May 26. But the final performance at Barrington Stage Co.’s Stage 2 is slated for Thursday, June 17. Don’t miss it.
Read Bob Geopfert’s review in The Troy Record
Read Matthew G. Moross’ review in The Daily Gazette
Read Michael Eck’s review in The Times Union
Read Chris Newbound’s review in Berkshire Living
Read Larry Murray’s review on BerkshireOnstage.com
Read Elyse Sommer’s review on CurtainUp.com
Read the review on RuralIntelligence.com