“The Whipping Man” Tackles Race, Faith in Post-Civil War America

November 10th, 2014

By Bill Grennan

Omaha, NE — The latest offering in the Omaha Playhouse’s Howard Drew Theatre takes a look at post-Civil War America.

The cast of 'The Whipping Man' (from left): Andrew Prescott, Carl Brooks, and Luther Simon.

The cast of ‘The Whipping Man’ (from left): Andrew Prescott, Carl Brooks, and Luther Simon.

Now running through November 16th, the Omaha Community Playhouse’s production of The Whipping Man by Matthew Lopez takes a unique look at faith, family, and race. Set at the end of the Civil War, a wounded Jewish Confederate soldier named Caleb finds his way to his parents’ ruined home. Upon his return, he discovers his family has fled their home leaving their former slaves, Simon and John, to care for the war-torn property. The three men, tied by faith, celebrate Passover with an impromptu Seder where secrets from their past come to light.

UNO student Andrew Prescott, who plays Caleb, said that because the lead character’s family were slave-owning Jews, the play takes a unique look at the American slavery dynamic of the mid 19th century.

“The director, Stephen Nachamie, talked about how there was such a small percentage of Jewish plantation owners in the South,” Prescott said. “Very little of them actually owned slaves. They would do it to fit in with the community even though it was against their religion because they celebrate the Passover. The Seder is a celebration of the freeing of Jews in Egypt. So to take slaves on is contradictory of that, but they did it to fit in with the culture and save what small amount of slaves they would take in and give them somewhat of a better life.”

Prescott said the cast, which includes Carl Brooks and Luther Simon, and creatives behind the show took care to recognize the delicate subject matter at hand, especially considering the many narratives in the media recently on race relation in America.

“I feel like with race, you kind of have to realize that…you can get lost in the moment,” he said. “But we would make sure that we would come back to earth and say, ‘This is the play but don’t beat each other up over it.’ It gets really intense at parts.”

The show also presented a unique acting challenge for a physical actor like Prescott. His character, Caleb, is wounded when he comes home and spends much of the play immobilized in a sitting couch so his physical movements are limited.

“Very slight shifting in terms of posture and direction,” he said. “If I’m talking to someone, I’m looking one way…then I shift my body to the right, which causes a little bit of pain. The movement is motivated because I want to direct my line to that person. Also, filling the space with your voice is very important. Giving that sense of emotion in your face.”

Prescott says that the show’s eloquent traversal of such difficult subject matter makes the show a must see for audiences.

The Omaha Community Playhouse’s Production of The Whipping Man will run through November 16th inside the Playhouse’s Howard Drew Theatre. For more information on the show, visit www.omahaplayhouse.com.

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