Review: ‘The Whipping Man’ at Celebration Arts

The Whipping Man: Thu 8pm, Friday 8pm, Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm; Through 3/24; $10-$20; Celebration Arts Theatre, 2727 B Street; (916) 455-2787;
Rated 4.0

Celebration Arts follows up its outstanding production of the pre-Civil War drama Abolition with a strong showing of the post-Civil War drama The Whipping Man.

The play takes place in Richmond, Virginia in April 1865. The war has ended, the slaves have been freed and former Confederate soldiers are returning home to a very different way of life than they left. The fact that the family—and its slaves—are Jewish adds an intriguing element to the story.

A severely injured Caleb DeLeon (Kyle Peck) returns to what is left of his family’s home, where only former family slaves Simon (Tory Scroggins) and John (Tarig Elsiddig) remain. How the former slave master and the newly free men negotiate their way in their new world tells us much about guilt and shame, retribution and forgiveness and what it takes to redeem ourselves.

This is playwright Matthew Lopez’s first play, premiering in 2006. Its off-Broadway debut in 2011 starred Andre Braugher as Simon.

Scroggins and Elsiddig, who showed great chemistry co-starring in Blue Door, work that same stage magic here. Scroggins is serious while Elsiddig is freer; he “finds,” “liberates” and, OK, “steals” supplies for survival. Peck’s inexperience as an actor shows, as his speech is too studied. Thankfully, no one attempts a Southern accent. Director James Wheatley paces the play expertly and brings a potentially gruesome scene right to the brink before stopping.