Saturday, January 20, 2018
Features and More

Review: 'Whipping Man' production is a moving homecoming for USF alum

TAMPA — The Civil War is over, and a badly wounded Confederate officer returns to his once grand and now destroyed mansion in Richmond, Va. Two of his family's freed slaves are also there amid the ruins. The dialogue among the three includes some rather surprising references.

John, one of the former slaves, quotes the Torah and says that horse meat — the only meat they've got to eat — isn't kosher. It's April, and Simon, the other, older former slave, wants to prepare a Seder for Passover. But Caleb, the wounded officer, lost his faith during the war. There is some Hebrew writing on a wall.

The Whipping Man, a play by Matthew Lopez now being performed by Gorilla Theatre, is drawn from the little-known history that some Jewish slave owners in the South brought up the African-Americans who were their property as Jews. It's a clever idea to set the work during Passover, when Jews celebrate Moses' liberation of the Hebrew slaves from Egypt. The metaphor of the Exodus is the same as that of black freedom in the United States, as many a Negro spiritual makes clear.

Each of the men in Lopez's drama has a secret that is eventually, and painfully, revealed in the Gorilla production, which features an excellent cast and was directed by James Rayfield. Caleb DeLeon (Drew Valins) may not be the honorable son of vanquished Dixie that his story suggests. John (Zo-Vallejo Bryant) knows something horrible about the absence of Simon's wife and daughter. Simon (Kim Sullivan) has kept to himself some ugly episodes during his long relationship with the DeLeon family.

The Seder is the heart of The Whipping Man, and Lopez relates it in idiosyncratic, sometimes comic fashion (hardtack serves as matzah). He works in President Lincoln's assassination, which occurred during Passover, and Simon laments "Father Abraham, who set us free. There's your Moses, John." However, the specifically Jewish connection between former slaves and master is not deeply explored.

The play is most galvanized by the amputation of Caleb's leg, carried out by Simon and John with a saw and plenty of whiskey for the patient, accompanied by blood-curdling screams. The grisly event is skillfully depicted through the use of a drape, shadows and pulsing red light.

Gorilla's production is being done at the Springs Theater in the Sulphur Springs neighborhood. The company left its longtime home in Drew Park at the end of last year. Though the Springs is mainly a recording studio, a section of it converts pretty well to a theater space, with the audience seated on chairs on risers, looking somewhat down on the play. Greg Bierce's artfully cluttered set and Megan Byrne's lighting create a suitably spooky atmosphere.

The Whipping Man is getting quite a few productions around the country, and it is a coup for Gorilla to stage the work by Lopez, who has Tampa ties. In a note in the playbill, he pays homage to his time at the University of South Florida. "It was as a theatre student at USF that the play was hatched in my mind, and this production very much feels like a homecoming," he writes. "Tampa holds a very special place in my heart and imagination as it was, quite simply, where I was first taken seriously as an artist."

John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.

Comments
Orchestra sets off fireworks in the brassy ‘Sinfonietta’

Orchestra sets off fireworks in the brassy ‘Sinfonietta’

TAMPA — Many times during Sinfonietta, Leoš Janácek’s notoriously difficult but joyous work, it was impossible for a regular patron of the Florida Orchestra to escape this observation: They have never sounded quite like this.This isn’t to say musicia...
Updated: 2 hours ago
‘Mike Hammer - Encore for Murder’ serves up hard-boiled 1950s fare with a healthy side of wit

‘Mike Hammer - Encore for Murder’ serves up hard-boiled 1950s fare with a healthy side of wit

CLEARWATER — From the moment the title character takes center stage, Mike Hammer — Encore for Murder is sold. Rarely does one actor own an entire production the way Gary Sandy owns this world premiere, and it’s a pleasure at watch, in large measure t...
Published: 01/19/18
Banksy’s Haight Street Rat coming to Winter Haven gallery

Banksy’s Haight Street Rat coming to Winter Haven gallery

Fans of notorious street artist and activist Banksy won’t have to travel too far to see one of his original pieces, thanks to an exhibit opening on Jan. 27 at the Outer Space Gallery in Winter Haven. The "Haight Street Rat" will be on display, on the...
Published: 01/18/18
Updated: 01/19/18
Inside American Stage’s plan to offer free or reduced admission to young people

Inside American Stage’s plan to offer free or reduced admission to young people

ST. PETERSBURG An air compressor did most of the talking as the small crew stapled down flooring to the stage. A master carpenter kept unskilled but eager workers on track, telling them where to line up edges. An astringent smell of glue permeated t...
Published: 01/18/18
Overtourism and safety cited in Fodor’s where-not-to-go list

Overtourism and safety cited in Fodor’s where-not-to-go list

As you contemplate all those "where to go in 2018" lists, here’s a twist: a list of places to avoid in the new year. The where not to go list is from Fodor’s, the travel guidebook publisher. Fodor’s "no list" includes places plagued by overtourism an...
Published: 01/18/18
Bar review: Florida spirits and brews at the newest Local Draught House in Tampa

Bar review: Florida spirits and brews at the newest Local Draught House in Tampa

I don’t consider myself "old" — though I have gotten into a bad habit of informing door people insistent on checking my ID that I’m halfway to 70. But I’m frequently made aware of how far removed my lifestyle is from that of my 20s.So when I walked i...
Published: 01/18/18
Local craft beer of the week: Electric Wizard IPA from 7venth Sun Brewery

Local craft beer of the week: Electric Wizard IPA from 7venth Sun Brewery

The past six months have been kind to Dunedin’s 7venth Sun Brewery. In August, the brewery’s long-awaited Tampa expansion finally happened, with its much larger Seminole Heights facility and tasting room opening in a town eager to try its range of ul...
Published: 01/18/18
Shake Shack, Momofuku and more: Please come to Tampa Bay

Shake Shack, Momofuku and more: Please come to Tampa Bay

Fabio is coming! Not the Fabio on your romance novel, with the billowing hair and large quantities of artificial butter. This Fabio, in all likelihood, uses real butter. And olive oil. Fabio Viviani, the charming Top Chef alum known for appearances...
Published: 01/17/18
Time to carbo load: Three new bakeries include an Australian bakery, second La Segunda

Time to carbo load: Three new bakeries include an Australian bakery, second La Segunda

LA SEGUNDAA Tampa Bay giant has stirred and is on the move. La Segunda Central Bakery, a family-owned Ybor City institution for nearly 103 years (they celebrated that birthday Jan. 15) and the largest producer of Cuban bread in the world, will open a...
Published: 01/17/18
Shake Shack inches closer to Tampa Bay with new Florida restaurant

Shake Shack inches closer to Tampa Bay with new Florida restaurant

Beloved burger restaurant Shake Shack, which once inspired hungry diners to wait in hours-long lines at New York's Madison Square Park before expanding with dozens of locations across the U.S., is inching closer to Tampa Bay. A lease agreement  with...
Published: 01/17/18