The Column Online



by Matthew Lopez

Circle Theatre

Directed by Harry Parker
Set Design by Clare Floyd DeVries
Costume Design by Drenda Lewis
Sound Design by David H.M. Lambert
Lighting Design by John Leach
Stage Manager and Props Designer Kelly Pino
Makeup Design by Bunny Miles


David Jeremiah as John
Montgomery Sutton as Caleb
William "Bill" Earl Ray as Simon

Reviewed Performance: 3/24/2012

Reviewed by Kayla Barrett, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

Matthew Lopez's The Whipping Man has recently become one of the more produced new American plays. Its sold-out Manhattan Theatre Club production earned Mr. Lopez the 2011 John Gassner Playwriting Award for the Outer Critics Circle. This play is an intense, compelling drama which takes an intimate glance into the lives of three men post Civil War. Circle Theatre's production of The Whipping Man is beyond astounding.

It brings integrity to the stage and mastery to this influential American piece. Set in war-ravaged Richmond, Virginia, a Jewish Confederate soldier and two freed slaves face the bitter reality of their post war lives. As the three men reunite to celebrate Passover, they soon uncover a web of secrets that could cost each man his freedom. This is the stuff great theatre is made of!

The setting is the ruins of a once grand home in Virginia. The production team works closely, designing with historical authenticity.

Every element is true to the time. Set Designer Clare Floyd DeVries captures the scene of a skeletal home shaken by fire and looting. DeVries pays close attention to detail, from the bricks and torn wallpaper to the fallen plant pots seen when the front door opens. Costume Designer Drenda Lewis captures the mood of the play with Civil War-era clothing styles and earth tones. She uses pieces with signs of wear and tear for the beaten soldier's clothes.

Sound Designer David H.M. Lambert utilizes well chosen songs between acts to support the spirit of the play.

John Leach's lighting design for the show is natural and well-timed. It is dimly lit in the beginning to represent a dark house with lightning flashes in the background. Then, with the lighting of a single lantern all the stage lights fade up. The makeup design by Bunny Miles is convincing. I halfway expected to see more blood but the verisimilitude of scarring and wounds is sufficient to make the audience wince and lean forward with anticipation and horror.

It is obvious Director Harry Parker understands Matthew Lopez's vision. He masterfully conducts a powerful production. All designs synchronize to form one clear vision. Parker's stage blocking is visually diverse and realistic. He is not afraid to bend the rules for the sake of authenticity. Each character is carefully cast and each actor creates distinct personalities.

One performance that especially stands out is William "Bill" Earl Ray in the dynamic role of Simon. He is an insightful fatherly figure who facilitates the action of the play. Mr. Ray uses his powerful voice to deliver gut-wrenching lines during a monologue in which he describes the horrors of gangrene. Ray makes us laugh when he uses his scolding lines to put John in his place: "You could put the things you know inside the things you don't and still have room for more!" He offers spiritual comfort to Caleb: "War is not proof of God's absence. It's proof of his absence from men's hearts."

Montgomery Sutton captures the spirit of the heartbroken soldier, Caleb DeLeon. He maneuvers his way through the script with accurate dialect and dramatic timing. When he experiences physical pain the audience feels it as well. Mr. Sutton delivers a touching monologue in which he reads a letter home that he has written at war. He reacts to disturbing truths with surprise and deep remorse.

David Jeremiah as John brings a youthful energy to the stage. He plays a rebellious and naive young man swelling with pride over his new found freedom. His character's high-spirited boasting creates comical moments within the script. John gains all kinds of goods by looting the war-ravaged town, and when he is confronted by Simon he explains, "These... I discovered!" When explaining the whisky he's acquired, "Stealing is when someone goes through great lengths to protect. Not the case with this. There was a case of this!" he laughs. Jeremiah is a charming John and, while his character is goofy, as the story unfolds we see him demonstrate true fear.

Circle Theatre's production of The Whipping Man is an emotional and mesmerizing experience that will bring a tear to your eye. Full of haunting themes and surprising twists, it provides powerful insight into the human condition. Undoubtedly, The Whipping Man will soon become a staple of historical American drama. One will never forget Alex Haley's Roots or Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List. Likewise, every American should experience The Whipping Man. Circle Theatre brings this sensational play to Fort Worth first, and in the most integral way. Please, please, don't miss it!

Circle Theatre, 230 West 4th St, Fort Worth, TX 76102
Through April 14, 2012

Thursdays at 7:30 pm
Fridays at 8:00 pm
Saturdays at 8:00 pm
Saturday matinees at 3:00 pm

Tickets are $20 - $30, depending on the day
Students, military and seniors (65+)- $5 off all performances

Box Office: (817)877-3040