Saturday, August 19, 2017

Mini College Review: The Whipping Man by Samuel French

Title: The Whipping Man
Author: Samuel French
Format: Paperback, 84 pages
Pub. Date: November 3rd 2009
Source: SIU Bookstore

Book Description:

Drama / Characters: 3 male It is April, 1865. The Civil War is over and throughout the south, slaves are being freed, soldiers are returning home and in Jewish homes, the annual celebration of Passover is being celebrated. Into the chaos of war-torn Richmond comes Caleb DeLeon, a young Confederate officer who has been severely wounded. He finds his family's home in ruins and abandoned, save for two former slaves, Simon and John, who wait in the empty house for the family's return. As the three men wait for signs of life to return to the city, they wrestle with their shared past, the bitter irony of Jewish slave-owning and the reality of the new world in which they find themselves. The sun sets on the last night of Passover and Simon - having adopted the religion of his masters - prepares a humble Seder to observe the ancient celebration of the freeing of the Hebrew slaves from Egypt, noting with particular satisfaction the parallels to their current situation. But the pain of their enslavement will not be soothed by this tradition, and deep-buried secrets from the past refuse to be hidden forever as the play comes to its shocking climax. The Whipping Man is a play about redemption and forgiveness, about the lasting scars of slavery, and the responsibility that comes with freedom. "A mesmerizing drama." - Peter Filichia, Newark Star-Ledger "A cause for celebration. Mathew Lopez has come as close as any author could to producing a microcosm of the genesis of a wide range of today's Black American males." - Bob Rendell, Talkin' Broadway "I can see why director Lou Bellamy chose this play for Penumbra, whose most famous alumnus is playwright August Wilson. In its complex welter of issues, in its interior explorations...The Whipping Man is Wilsonian." - Rohan Preston, Minneapolis Star-Ledger "Succeeds with an uncanny maturity in using sharply drawn characters and rich metaphor to wrestle Wilson-like with epic American issues of race, religion, and responsibility. Someone must succeed Wilson; it might as well be Lopez" - Tim Gihring, Minnesota Monthly



I had to read "The Whipping Man" in my American literature course in college. It is the best piece of fiction that I got to read the whole semester.

This play is absolutely fantastic. I can honestly say that I've never read a story like this one.

The characters are a mix of Jewish home owners and slaves during the Civil War era. I can honestly say in all my years of education (and reading for fun) I've never read a story that weaves these two points of view together. But the incredible way that French has written this story, it seems like a common sense pairing. It works so well.

The characters are well developed. They're distinct, and they feel real. I had feelings toward them all. Not all of those feelings were positive, but I was emotionally invested in the way these characters developed and grew, the way their backgrounds are teased to the surface, the way each of them struggle and have faith in their own way.

It's rugged. It's gritty. It's real. It feels almost like you could be watching this unfold from through the window. There's a particularly gnarly leg amputation that is very well detailed, that sets the tone of dirt and blood and alcohol and grit that gives this play a distinct tone. That said, it's not all drama and heartbreak. It's rather comedic, which I did not anticipate even a little. I was pleasantly surprised, and it keeps you reading and connects you to particular characters.

It's a short play, but there's so much packed into these 90 pages.

I sincerely hope I get the chance to see this on stage. It's fantastic, and I can't recommend it enough.


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