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The Whipping Man
Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe

Also see Bill's review of The Mystery of Edwin Drood


Robert Douglas, Taurean Blacque and Drew Foster
This year, Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe has scored a coup for its yearly dramatic presentation, Matthew Lopez's much in demand The Whipping Man, for its area premiere. The play was first produced in 2006 at Luna Stage Company, Montclair, New Jersey, followed by a few other presentations, making its New York debut in February 2011 at The Manhattan Theater Club with a cast featuring Andre Braugher. Since then it has been seen all over the regional theater circuit because of its power and its limited requirements, a cast of three. The play is set at the end of the Civil War, on the day President Lincoln was assassinated and the day after, and deals with the themes of a pre and post slavery economy framed by Jews celebrating the festival of Passover, which celebrates being freed from Egyptian bondage. After seeing two acclaimed plays in recent years and finding them lacking in intellectual depth, it was refreshing to be challenged by Mr. Lopez' opus.

Board member Howard Millman, formally Artistic Director of Asolo Rep, has stepped into the director's chair for The Whipping Man. With his deep connections in the regional theater world, WBTT was able to bring Taurean Blacque (Detective Neil Washington on "Hill Street Blues")to Sarasota in the role of Simon, former slave, always in charge of the house. In a brilliant performance, Blacque brings emotional depth to this fatherly role, wise sage to both of the two other characters. Robert Douglas plays John, also previously one of the plantation slaves. He gives a fine performance. His monologue that gives the play its title is riveting and when he runs out, Millman allows a long silence that is overwhelming in its intensity. Drew Foster returns to his hometown to play Caleb, son of the plantation owners. He delivers a nuanced performance as Caleb, damaged by his war experiences, in pain from an injury and at sea with the emotion charged changes going on around him in his relationships with Simon and John. One thing I noticed about all three was their ease with the Jewish ritual, for example how they wear yarmulkes, the Hebrew skullcaps. At the talk back after the performance, all credited director Millman for this.

WBTT continues to rise to greater and greater artistic heights. Last year I wrote that I had seen the best production by them ever, so I no longer allow myself to say that, but they do keep raising the bar. The set by Richard Cannon has many details that inform the audience how the home and its inhabitants had been affected by the war. It opens a deeper playing space to the rear than I had seen previously. Costume designer Timothy Beltley provides period dress which does not call a lot of attention to itself, but this play does not make strong demands in this area. Caleb's war wounds and John's physical scars, done with makeup, are superb. No one is given credit for this in the program. All of the other technical aspects of the performance are up to company standards. It is always nice to see regulars such as Juanita Munford, James Dodge, II, Shane Streight and Michael Pasquini in their regular places, WBTT being a family company.

Outstanding acting in service to a provocative play gives Sarasota audiences reason to see The Whipping Man.

The Whipping Man, presented by WBTT Theater, 1646 10th Way, Sarasota, Florida, 366-1505. Through February 2, 2014. For more information, visit www.wbttsrq.org.

Cast: in alphabetical order
Simon: Taurean Blacque
John: Robert Douglas
Caleb: Drew Foster

Director: Howard Millman
Production Manager: James Dodge, II
Scenic Designer: Richard Cannon
Technical Director: Shane Streight
Lighting Supervisor: Michael Pasquini
Master Electrician: Nick Jones
Costume Designer: Timothy Beltley
Scenic Painter: John Reynolds
Sound Designer: Christopher Colucci
Sound Engineer: Eric Schanie
Property Master: Annette Breazeale
House Manager: Myllanna McKinnon
Stage Manager: Juanita Munford


Photo: Don Daly Photo.com

--William S. Oser



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