Gripping and often shocking civil war drama satisfies.
(Note: Art is subjective. One-person’s sublime evening out is another person’s torture. I want to celebrate what went into creating the show and how I felt the audience reacted. Then I will allow my cynical Uncle Max to have a short retort. I will also post the cost of tickets.
The thought is you can then decide is the show is to your taste and worth the money they are asking. Does Uncle Max talk you out of it? Or did the rest of the review convince you to go? Let me know.)
How often to we see a play that takes place just after the American Civil War?
Immediately The Whipping Man by the always-dependable Pacific Theatre captures your intrigue with their sign on the door warning amongst other things ‘graphic physical trauma with fake blood’.
The script by Matthew Lopez takes place in the final days of the American civil war. A badly injured Confederate soldier stumbles to his home in a battered and war torn Jewish neighbourhood as one says “Hell happened to this town”. His family has fled to safer areas and all that is left are two former slaves. Simon, who is older and amiable and used to tend to the house and John who is full of life and mischief.
Although Caleb leg is infected with gangrene both men are wary to help him. Since it is Passover the Jewish household, such as it is, wants to prepare the Seder, cautious charity wins out. In a truly intense and often shocking scene they explain how they will have to remove his leg to save his life.
The household built on prejudice and power is also a house filled with lies and secrets. All three of the men harbor mystery and part of the power of the script is trying to figure them out and watch the reaction of the others when each bombshell explodes.
It’s the actors who really make this odyssey of emotions and plot twists such a visceral experience.
As the injured solider, Giovanni Mocibob has to place a huge amount of heart into a man of privilege and invites pity for his past. Carl Kennedy is electric all the time he’s on stage. John is full of joy and verve in this unimaginable new world, his smile beams and he jumps about the set like a colt, kicking and playful boasting “The war is over, you lost, we won!” John also harbors some secrets that threaten to destory happiness in a blink and he always carries that with him.
Then there is Tom Picket who carries the soul of the piece. Simon is an older man and he has seen a lot of terror and abuse hefted on the slaves, he learned to keep his head down and put his faith in God. When he talks about money that he is going to earn and what he is going to do with it he is filled with simple hope for a happier life. You love Simon and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that he is going to be the character who is likely to lose the most in this story.
The set by Drew Facey is a bombed out sitting room, grand and opulent, or at least it use to be. Jeff Tymoshuk did the often startling sound design and Lauchlin Johnston creates lighting effects that suggest moonlight and candles in this time before electric lights.
Director Anthony F. Ingram has brought passion and depth to this powerful drama that has us laughing at a quip one moment, sighing sadly the next and then plunging us shockingly into a devastating revelation. The opening night audience made up of supporters of the company, welcomed the ride. Many of them leapt to their feet at the curtain call.
UNCLE MAX RETORTS
Drama! We got drama here. Why on earth would the characters that have the secrets they have stay in the front room of the big house by the front door? They kept glancing at it in fear and I wanted to shout “move to another room in the house, so you can get away.” But then that would not be as dramatic.
The talk about the Seder ceremony felt like, an instructional information presentation without the slides, or hands on show and tell, or any engagement whatsoever.
There is a cool flashback sequence done with smoke and steam. We hear a voiceover that reveals some of the inner workings of a character. That is, until we notice video projection being shown on the floor and try to make out what it is, ‘looks like a hand gesturing or something’. As I asked the people around me ‘what the hell is that suppose to be?’. I no longer heard the voiceover, and I guess neither did they.
WHO IS THIS SHOW FOR?
A fascinating and affecting drama that is immensely satisfying. If you like stories about race relations and the aftermath of civil war intrigue you and you like to clutch your heart because dynamic powerful actors are likely going to rip it out, then this is the show for you.
WHAT DOES IT COST?
Tickets are $33.05 every night and Saturday at 2pm they are $22.58.
There are student prices on Wednesday and Thursday – $21.00
Pacific Theatre has talk back nights of various kinds during the run of every play they present.
Pacific Theatre also uses volunteer ushers.
Intense drama that grew then stalled then exploded. A fascinating night of theatre with dynamic actors.
David C. Jones