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REVIEW: The Whipping Man

By Gary Wien

Matthew Lopez's The Whipping Man is a powerful, emotionally-draining drama that is brilliantly produced by George Street Playhouse. Running now through February 15, George Street has outdone itself with this production. It's a play about the choices we make in life; how they define us, and what they say about the people we are. Featuring an outstanding cast and crisp direction from Seret Scott, the play should definitely be on your radar as a must see production.

The Whipping Man was first produced by New Jersey's Luna Stage in 2006. Since then, it has become one of the most widely produced new works in recent years. This production stars Ron Canada as Simon, Luke Forbes as John, and Adam Gerber as Caleb. Set in Richmond, Virginia shortly after the end of the Civil War, the play takes place in Caleb's home — or what's left of it since looters have taken just about everything. As the play begins, Caleb, a Jewish Confederate soldier, returns home wounded from battle. The horse he rode home with has died on the front yard and he stumbles into his house. There he meets Simon, once a slave owned by his family, and the barrel of Simon's shotgun.

The elderly Simon has been waiting for Caleb's family and his own to return home. He has spent time helping out the wounded in the hospital and instantly realizes that Caleb's leg has gone gangrene and needs to come off. Caleb refuses to go to the hospital, insisting that Simon take the leg off at home.

"All these things you're telling me to do, by rights you have to ask," Simon reminds him.

Not soon afterwards, John appears. John too was a slave in Caleb's family. Much younger than Simon, John is roughly Caleb's age and the two grew up together much like brothers. While Simon believes that helping Caleb is the right thing to do, John wonders, "How is this our problem anymore?"

John ultimately helps Simon remove Caleb's leg in a scene that is incredibly tense and not for the feint of heart. Adam Gerber lies on a makeshift bed, writhing with pain as the audience watches in suspense. It's unlike anything I've ever seen on stage before, yet it only foreshadows the true pain in the story.

While Simon wants to enjoy his freedom, John wants revenge. Luke Forbes is terrific as a young adult with a world of demons in his past. Growing up, John was often a problem child and regularly made trips to the whipping man. He was beaten for his desire to be educated. John read book after book and asked questions of the world — questions that still remain, even after being set free. His character has so much anger inside of him, you wonder if he will literally explode on stage.

Meanwhile, Ron Canada is brilliant as Simon, an ex-slave who has earned his right to be angry yet keeps his anger in check. In many ways, Simon's character has more pain inside him than the other two combined. It is a tremendously nuanced performance that will stun you in the end.

Along the way, the three's Hebrew heritage is something they still have in common, even though Caleb says he lost his faith on the battlefield. When John a datebook he "found" says it's around Passover, Simon plans to hold a Seder. Caleb accuses him of stealing the datebook to which John replies, "Look who's accusing who of stealing time."

Simon is proud to have served in a Jewish household all these years, believing that Caleb's family treated them as one of the family. He reminds John of how he and Caleb were like two peas in a pod, best friends forever.

"It's not a friendship when one friend owns the other and sends him off for a whipping," says John. The whipping man was the devil himself to John and he never forgave Caleb for that day. "That was the last time we were as close as you remember, Simon."

Simon remains hopeful though. Caleb's father once promised him that he would give him enough money to start a life if he was ever set free. For Simon, that money is the key to his dream of owning his own house (and maybe a chair if there's enough money left over). He tells Caleb that he would still be able to work for the family but for a real wage.

"It's good that you're staying," said Caleb. "It'll be like it was before."

"No, it will not be like before," Simon replies.

The Whipping Man is a gripping tale of the period immediately following the war when America changed dramatically overnight. Simon and John show how different generations handled their newfound freedom, while Caleb is a reminder of how many slave owners would forever be haunted by the actions of their past. The play includes many twists and turns — not real shockers, but highly believable pieces to the puzzle which lead up to a simply breathtaking ending. The Whipping Man is simply an amazing play. It reminds me of the first time I read August Wilson. I can't wait to see more from Matthew Lopez.

The Whipping Man is running now through February 15, 2015 at George Street Playhouse (9 Livingston Avenue) in New Brunswick, NJ. For more information visit

PHOTOS by T. Charles Erickson

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Center Players Presents "The Emperor's New Duds"
(FREEHOLD, NJ) --  Center Players Dessert Theater will present a family-friendly production of “The Emperor’s New Duds” at Center Playhouse, 35 South St, in downtown Freehold, NJ from December 7 – 16. A musical adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s the “Emperor’s New Clothes,” the play was written by Bernice Garfield-Szita, who co-directed the production with Enid Bush.
Centenary Stage’s Young Performers Workshop presents 2018 Winter Festival of Shows
(HACKETTSTOWN, NJ) -- Based on the Gospel According to St. Matthew with music and new lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, Godspell is composed of various musical parables from The Gospel. Jesus Christ recruits a group of followers and teaches them various lessons through song and dance. Toward the end of the second act, the show begins to follow a more linear narrative as Jesus is betrayed by Judas and eventually crucified. Performances are Sunday, December 9 at 5:00pm; Saturday, December 15 at 8pm and Sunday, December 16 at 7:30pm.
The Shakespeare Theatre Presents "The Winter's Tale"
(MADISON, NJ) -- The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s concludes its 56th season with its sixth and final Main Stage production, The Winter's Tale. Last seen at The Shakespeare Theatre in 2008, Artistic Director Bonnie J. Monte directs this production of Shakespeare’s tragicomedic romance. Veteran company members Jacqueline Antaramian, Jon Barker, Erin Partin, John Keabler, Raphael Nash Thompson,Seamus Mulcahy, Patrick Toon, and Ames Adamson are among a cast of 20 actors. Performances run from December 5 to December 30. 
American Theater Group Announces Full Cast & Creative For "Tell Them I'm Still Young"
(SOUTH ORANGE, NJ) -- American Theater Group has announced the full cast and creative team for its World Premiere production of Tell Them I’m Still Young, a new play by Julia Doolittle, which will run at the South Orange Performing Arts Center from January 24 - February 3, 2019. Joining the previously announced Andre Braugher (Homicide: Life on the Streets, Men of a Certain Age, Brooklyn Nine-Nine) andMichele Pawk (Hollywood Arms, Hairspray, Mamma Mia) are Janice Amaya (Seen/Unseen) and Seth Clayton (The Madrid).
Holmdel Theatre Company Presents 'ART'
(HOLMDEL, NJ) – The Holmdel Theatre Company (HTC) will present 6 performances of Yasmina Reza’s ‘ART’  from December 7th through December 16th. Translated from French by Christopher Hampton, the play tells the story of what happens when Serge buys an expensive painting, and the reactions of his two closest friends, Marc and Yvan, to his purchase. As what begins as a discussion about the quality of the painting that Serge has purchased quickly devolves into petty jabs and personal attacks, the three men border on destroying their friendships.

Broadway’s Mandy Gonzalez LIVE! at Toms River’s Grunin Center
Broadway is in the house at Toms River, NJ’s Grunin Center for the Arts with a Fearless live concert performance by Broadway star, Mandy Gonzalez!
"The Spitfire Grill" and Caitlin Geisser Return To Their Roots
“I saw something in her that you rarely come across,” recalled Ted Wioncek III, Artistic Director at Eagle Theatre in Hammonton. “She’s more than wise beyond her years; I believe she’s going to be a game-changer and a trendsetter for this art form.”
Broadway’s Next H!T Musical LIVE! at Toms River’s Grunin Center
It’s Friday, October 26, 2018, and the Broadway’s Next H!T Musical cast is just about ready to take the stage at the Jay and Linda Grunin Center for the Arts, located on the campus of Ocean County College in Toms River, NJ.
The Last Apple Pie: "Apples In Winter" Opens At Centenary Stage
Jennifer Fawcett’s new play centers around a mother in a kitchen, doing something countless people across America will take part in over the upcoming holiday season: making an apple pie.
See Andrea McArdle LIVE! in Annie at Deal Park’s Axelrod PAC!
Leapin’ Lizards! Annie’s finally made it to the Axelrod Performing Arts Center in Deal Park, NJ, and it stars Broadway’s original Annie, Andrea McArdle, as Miss Hannigan!

Event calendar
Saturday, Nov 17, 2018


THE GAY BLADES @ The Saint, Asbury Park - 7:30pm

HERMAN'S HERMITS STARRING PETER NOONE & THE BUCKINGHAMS @ Bergen Performing Arts Center (bergenPAC), Englewood - 8:00pm

Nelson Riveros Trio: “The Latin Side of Wes Montgomery” @ Englewood Public Library, Englewood - 7:00pm

Hawaiian Music and Hula @ 1867 Sanctuary at Ewing, Ewing - 8:00pm

Pop 2000 Tour @ iPlay America, Freehold - 7:00pm

THE MACHINE PERFORMS PINK FLOYD @ The Strand Theater, Lakewood - 8:00pm


Todd Barry at SOPAC @ South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC), South Orange - 8:00pm

Swamp Boogie Trio @ Lizzie Rose Music Room, Tuckerton - 7:30pm


Annie @ Broad Street United Methodist Church, Burlington - 8:00pm

An Actor's Carol @ Cape May Stage, Cape May - 3:00pm and 7:30pm

Annie @ Axelrod Performing Arts Center, Deal Park - 2:00pm and 8:00pm

Apples In Winter @ Centenary Stage Company - Kutz Theater of the Lackland Center, Hackettstown - 8:00pm

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat @ The Levoy Theatre, Millville - 8:00pm

Billy Bishop Goes to War @ Bickford Theatre at the Morris Museum, Morristown - 2:00pm

Kiss Me Kate @ Broadway Theatre of Pitman, Pitman - 2:00pm and 8:00pm

Phoenix Productions Presents: The Hunchback of Notre Dame @ Count Basie Center For The Arts, Red Bank - 8:00pm

Enchanted April @ The Summit Playhouse, Summit - 8:00pm

Heathers, The Musical High School Edition @ Pebble Players, Oakes Center, Summit - 7:30pm

Junie B. Jones The Musical at Black Box PAC @ Black Box PAC, Teaneck - 11:00am

Into the Woods @ Studio Playhouse Upper Montclair, Upper Montclair - 8:00pm

The Drowsy Chaperone @ Lauren K. Woods Theatre at Monmouth University, West Long Branch - 8:00pm


Todd Barry at SOPAC @ South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC), South Orange - 8:00pm


BALLET FOLKLORICO DE MEXICO @ Mayo Performing Arts Center (MPAC), Morristown - 8:00pm


ROALD DAHL’S WILLY WONKA JR. @ Ridgewood Ave School Theater, Glen Ridge - 1:00pm and 7:00pm


Mainebiz Health Care Forum @ Mainebiz Health Care Forum, Newyork - 8:00pm

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