‘The Whipping Man’ awes and inspires

Lisa Herdman

Three men, one set and an awkward situation.

Topeka Civic Theatre presents The Whipping Man, a play following a man returning home injured after the Civil War to his two former slaves, from June 10 to June 18.

It is 1865 and during Passover, the Civil War has just ended and Jewish homes celebrate the deliverance from bondage. Caleb DeLeon returns to his home wounded from the war to find it in ruins, devoid of his family and only inhabited by two of his former slaves that he must now rely on to help him heal his wounds.

I was truly nervous when I saw the small stage the actors were going to have to work with. Three characters and a small room had me scared for a dreary performance that would leave me bored. It takes a lot of good action and captivation to drive a play with such a small cast, and this play was able to do it flawlessly.

The three characters, played by Dane Shobe, Matt Briden and Braxton Hunt, led the play predominantly through dialogue rather than high action. The insinuation of events happening both in the past and currently off stage gave the audience a bigger picture without having to see the action. It also helped with the plays focus on secrets that the characters kept from each other, always leaving the events and secrets in a more mysterious state.

Dane Shobe, playing Simon, held my attention for the entire second act, singing and yelling and interacting with the other actors. Simon is an older man, a former slave and is waiting for his family to return with Caleb DeLeon’s father. He still vehemently believes in his Jewish traditions, forcing the two other characters along with him as he celebrates Passover and his newfound freedom.

The tension in the second act punctuated by the celebration of Passover, the discovery of lost family and the discoveries between the characters drove the play and made me scared for what may happen to the characters.

The lighting and set interaction was interesting to watch. One character would light a candle and a light would slowly illuminate the stage. The characters walking behind the set were perceived to be outside and made the set seem bigger than it actually was.

If I had any critique it would only be the lighting halfway through the show. The light was coming from behind the characters and irritated audience members’ eyes depending on where you sat. It could be a bit annoying and was during a small bit of the play that was supposed to be DeLeon reading a letter from the war, but wasn’t necessarily needed. I would have loved to never know what the letter said and had to only guess.

Overall, the play was truly captivating. For a small set and stage crew the characters were well thought out and believable. I would recommend taking the time to go and experience this performance.

Rating: 4.5 stars