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September 15, 2011 - Image 57

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2011-09-15

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

The Whipping Man

JET opener wows audience.

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4189 ORCHARD LAKE ROAD • ORCHARD LAKE TVVP., MICHIGAN 248.865.0000

Scott Norman, Rusty Mewha and Council Cargle in JET's production of
The Whipping Man

Ronelle Grier

Norman is outstanding as the conniv-
ing and self-serving former slave, John,
who allows the audience to see the pain
hen The Whipping Man,
that lives beneath what becomes his slick,
the opening production of
well-dressed (in stolen clothes) exterior.
Jewish Ensemble Theatre's
Mewha does a wonderful job of
2011-2012 season, came to its dramatic expressing the range of emotions Caleb
conclusion, my first reaction was more
experiences as the play unfolds while
heartfelt than articulate: "Wow"
convincingly portraying the excruciat-
The play is so rich with meaning, mul-
ing pain his character endures through-
tilayered symbolism and powerful perfor- out most of the performance.
mances that it took a while to formulate
In what might be the ultimate theatri-
any further thoughts.
cal symbolism, Simon realizes
The Whipping Man, pro-
that it is Passover and decides
duced in conjunction with REVIEW to conduct a seder. Using wine
the Plowshares Theatre
that John stole from a neighbor-
Company, Michigan's only professional
ing house, collard greens to represent bit-
African American theater company, is
ter herbs and a piece of leftover soldier's
directed by its artistic director, Gary
hardtack in place of matzah, the three
Anderson.
men commemorate the emancipation
Written by Matthew Lopez, the play is
of the Jews from Egypt as they reflect on
set in Richmond, Va., in 1865, in a once-
their own newfound freedom from a dif-
grand house that has been ravaged dur-
ferent kind of slavery.
ing the recently ended Civil War. Simon
One of the play's strengths is that,
(Council Cargle), a newly emancipated
like the historical era it depicts, the
slave, is trying to survive amidst the des- ending does not present neat solutions
olation when Caleb (Rusty Mewha), the
to the issues that have been raised.
son of his former owner and a captain in Instead, the message is that freedom
the Confederate army, stumbles through is a complicated concept and survi-
the door with a nasty and dangerously
vors bear scars that endure long after
neglected bullet wound. The two men
enslavement ends.
soon are joined by John (Scott Norman),
Melinda Pacha's set depicts the war-
another former slave who was raised
ravaged house with realistic detail,
in the same house where Simon served
down to the tattered, soot-covered cur-
Caleb and his family.
tains. Mary Copenhagen's costumes are
Together the three men negotiate
true to the era and the characters. Light
new relationships with one another and and Sound Designer Jon Weaver and
with themselves as they explore the
Properties Designer Diane Ulseth add
meaning of family, friendship, freedom
to the overall effect.
and faith. Together they try to under-
I did not take notes during this
stand their collective past and prepare
performance as I usually do when
to face the future in a country that has
reviewing a play. I was too mesmerized
been forever changed.
by what was taking place on stage, and
The actors are exceptional, as individu- I knew that I was not going to forget
al characters and as an ensemble. Simon,
what I heard and saw anytime soon.
the leader of the group, displays physical
And if the standing ovation that began
strength and wisdom that is far above
before the actors had even lined up to
his counterparts. Ironically, he is the least
take their bows is any indication, I was
educated, but his perception and insight
not the only one who was "wowed" by
go far beyond the written word.
this remarkable show. Li

Contributing Writer

W

JET's production of The Whipping Man runs through Oct. 2 at the Jewish
Community Center in West Bloomfield. Performances are 7:30 p.m.
Thursdays; 5 and 8:30 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sundays, with
a 2 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 28, matinee. $43/discounts for seniors and
students. (248) 788-2900; jettheatre.org .

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September 15 2011

57

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