BEST DRAMA Minneapolis 2010 - The Whipping Man at Penumbra Theatre
Penumbra Theatre's take on Matthew Lopez's drama was dark, complex, and short on easy answers. The action began with Joseph Papke's injured Civil War reb busting through the door of his ransacked family plantation immediately after the cataclysm of Appomattox; waiting for him was his former slave Simon (James Craven), now free. Duane Boutte rounded out the cast as a younger former slave torn between his sweet nature and the ways in which cruelty had warped it. Lopez threw a curveball into the already charged scenario by having all three perform an impromptu Seder (the plantation's family having brought their slaves into the Jewish faith); Papke's crippled soldier flashed defiance, refusing to admit the new realities around him, until historical memories of Pharaoh and another bygone episode of slavery hit his character right between the eyes. It was a powerful night, resonant of history and its oceanic tides, which are far from coming to rest.