Kevyn Morrow and Johnny Ramey in Centerstage’s production of The Whipping Man. Photo by Richard Anderson.
“The Whipping Man,” a taut Civil War drama about a wounded Jewish confederate soldier and his encounter with the Jewish slaves owned by his father, has been on a nationwide roll since its world premiere in 2006. With more than a dozen productions from New York to Tampa Bay, San Diego to Philadelphia, Cincinnati to Fort Worth, the three-character play by newcomer Matthew Lopez seems to have a leg up, literally. This month “The Whipping Man” is running both at Baltimore’s Centerstage through May 13, and in Washington, D.C., at Theater J, from April 18 to May 20.
This unusual confluence has allowed the two companies to share dramaturgical resources, and to engage in a bit of friendly competition. Centerstage’s new artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah jokingly opined that because of its proximity, Theater J “will be able to steal the good bits of mine and make theirs better.” Kidding aside, both productions touch a chord, drawing back the curtain on the little-known and little-talked about world of southern Jewry during the Civil War, including confederate soldiers and, reputedly, slaves who practiced Judaism. The play, opening in the waning days of battle, also has a gory coup de theatre to keep audiences riveted.