The Whipping Man

Jan 27, 2015

Adam Haas Hunter, Jarrod M. Smith and Charlie Robinson  in SouthOn April 13, 1865, the war is over and Caleb DeLeon returns home to Richmond, Virginia to find the family mansion in ruins. Surprisingly, it is being guarded by the family’s elderly house slave Simon. These two men are later joined be another family slave, young John.

Officially, there are no such things as “master” and “house slave” anymore. On the first of January two years earlier, President Lincoln had issued an executive order proclaiming the freedom for slaves in the ten states that were still in rebellion, and on April 9, 1865, General Robert E. Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant. The war between the states was over.

The impact was devastating and extraordinary.




Most of us know this history, and it’s still not easy to stomach the reality and brutality of the institution of American slavery and our country’s civil war. Now, playwright Matthew Lopez has imagined an interesting situation, an intriguing twist on these historical events, which has manifested in his play The Whipping Man. “Master” Caleb is Jewish. And the family slaves, now former slaves, were raised in Jewish tradition.

Felicia Lee of the New York Times writes that Lopez, “a self-described ‘foxhole Episcopalian’ from the Florida Panhandle, the son of a Puerto Rican father and a Polish-Russian mother,” who was also bullied as a child and is a gay man, “stumbled upon a casual reference to the fact that in 1865 the Passover observance began the day after Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.

” ‘It was this eureka moment,’ Mr. Lopez said. ‘As these slaves were being freed in the American South, there was this ancient observance of the Exodus story.’ ” (Lee/, 2011)




As the three men, now all free men, plan a Seder, the question is, “What do I do now?”

For the young, newly free John who has hopes and dreams, for Caleb who is gravely ill and secretly in love with a woman with whom he should not be, and for Simon who has “compassion and unshakeable faith,” yet calls “his scar-covered back Caleb’s ‘family tree,’ “…What is next? How does one step into a completely new life?¹

” ‘There is no clean break,’ Lopez says. ‘How do you make that psychological change?’ ”

Lopez has been lauded for his smart dialogue that “ranges from rhythmic to biting to funny” (D’Arminio, Entertainment Weekly), for action that “spools out elegantly as new revelations arise and characterizations deepen” (Soloski, The Village Voice), and for a play that is “haunting, striking, and powerful” (Isherwood, The New York Times).




The Pasadena Playhouse, in association with South Coast Repertory, present The Whipping Man, directed by Martin Benson and starring Charlie Robinson (best known for his performance as Mac in NBC’s Night Court), Adam Haas Hunter (who just portrayed Algernon Moncrieff in A Noise Within’s production of The Importance of Being Earnest), and Jarrod M. Smith of South Coast Repertory.

The Whipping Man opens February 3rd, during debut week, and runs through March 1st.


The Whipping Man
Tuesday, Feb. 3rd-Sunday, March 1st, times vary
Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave. 91101
Tickets: $30-$75; premiere seating, $125
Purchase tickets here
For more info, call 626.921.1161
Or visit


The Whipping Man; production photos by Debora Robinson

The Whipping Man; production photos by Debora Robinson



¹“Whipping Man Casts Shadow over Old South,” by Eric Marchese, Orange County Register, January 12, 2015.



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