Richmond, Virginia was once the capital of the Confederacy during the Civil War, and is also the setting for “The Whipping Man,” currently playing at Farmers Alley Theatre in downtown Kalamazoo.
The ruins of a home in Richmond in April of 1865 provide the setting for the entire productiong, as “The Whipping Man” is a very character-based show. The story spans from April 13 to April 15, encompassing the day that President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.
The story begins with a wounded Caleb coming back from his duties in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. He finds two slaves that worked for his family, Simon and John, who help him heal his wounds. The Jewish family has practiced their faith with their slaves, including Simon and John, who are shocked to find that Caleb has stopped praying.
Many twists and turns abound in “The Whipping Man,” as each character goes through some some dynamic shift throughout the show. Simon, for example, has an emotional speech in act two where he talks about meeting Abraham Lincoln. The three man cast of Rico Bruce Wade as Simon, Ben Reigel as Caleb and Scott V. Norman as John works extremely well, building a fantastic onstage dynamic with their extreme talents and great chemistry.
Director D. Terry Williams has has build a truly intimate and emotional show with “The Whipping Man,” his first local production since directing “The Three Musketeers” at the Shaw Theatre in the Gilmore Theatre Complex last fall.
Williams said there are a couple of major differences between directing a show like “The Three Musketeers” and directing “The Whipping Man.”
“With a big cast show like ‘The Three Musketeers,’ we’ve got lots of characters, lots of different scenes, scenery, costumes,” Williams said. “You’ve got to be more of a manager as well as a director.”
On the other hand, Williams said that a smaller cast helps build sense of ensemble and sharing.
“Playing with a unit set, a single set like this, and only three actors that are on stage most of the time, and it’s much shorter than a big three-act play like ‘The Three Musketeers,’ it’s tighter,” Williams said. “In a small space like this, they have to listen to each other very carefully.”
Williams also said there was a difference between directing students and the members of the Actors’ Equity Association that make up most of the Farmer’s Alley regulars.
“With students, undergraduate students, directing and teaching are inseparable,” Williams said. “You’re doing both simultaneously. Here I don’t have to teach because these are trained actors that have been to school that had actor training that have taken classes.”
Williams mentions that professional actors bring their life experience to roles that best suit their age, versus students in their 20s trying to play older characters, and that informs their choices as actors.
Williams said that the timing for the Steven Spielberg movie “Lincoln” could not have been any better for Farmers Alley Theatre’s production of “The Whipping Man.”
“It provides a wonderful historical, emotional, topical context for ‘The Whipping Man,’ particularly in the second act where Simon has that beautiful speech about meeting Abraham Lincoln when Lincoln had come to Richmond, and that scene is the film,” Williams said.
“The Whipping Man” can be seen at Farmers Alley Theatre Feb. 9, 14, 15, 16, 21, 22 and 23 at 8 p.m. and Feb. 10, 17 and 24 at 2 p.m. Tickets are available at the Farmers Alley Theatre box office, online at www.farmersalleytheatre.com/current-season/the-whipping-man, or by phone at 269-343-2727.