Civil War and Seder

The Whipping Man

This one gets five stars and a “l’chiam.”

This one gets five stars and a “l’chiam.”

Photo by Barry Wisdom

The Whipping Man; 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday; $34-$38. Pollock Stage at Wells Fargo Pavilion, 1419 H Street; (916) 443-6722; Through May 3.

Rated 5.0

Through an excellent play, impressive performances, and creative production choices, Sacramento Theatre Company’s current show The Whipping Man instantly and powerfully transports the audience to the South at the close of the Civil War.

This isn’t just any moment or any place in the South; this is Richmond, Va., April 13, 14 and 15, 1865, during Passover—all very relevant to playwright Matthew Lopez’s award-winning story about two freed slaves and their former owner.

The story begins with Caleb, a young wounded Confederate soldier returning from the battlefield to find his home destroyed and two of his newly freed slaves trying to cobble a life together amidst the ruins of the house, a community and a society that has instantly shifted. The historic dates are pertinent—during those three particular days, the war is ending, an assassination takes place and Passover is being observed in the relatively large Jewish population who lived in Richmond.

And STC’s timing of this staging is perfect: This year is the sesquicentennial anniversary of the Civil War and this month is Passover—both woven into the story in significant and powerful ways, especially the references to slavery and freedom from bondage during a Seder observance.

Director Buddy Butler, who also directed STC’s 2013 production of Master Harold and the Boys, flawlessly meshes three distinct, powerful and nuanced performances: Sean Patrick Nill as an explosive, physically and psychologically wounded Confederate soldier; Michael J. Asberry as the still-loyal house servant Simon, who is looking forward to freedom and family life with his freed wife and daughter; and Anthony Simone as the brash, bitter, newly freed slave anxious to throw off his shackles and previous groveling to white society.

Presented on STC’s small, intimate Pollack Stage, the imaginative set, costumes, lighting and sound effects of The Whipping Man all work seamlessly together to capture a time, place and people haunted by their past, present and imagined future.