“The Whipping Man” at Taproot Theatre

Slavery, the stain that sullies American history, the evil whose consequences are with us still—that is the heart of “The Whipping Man.” It takes place in a ransacked southern plantation house at the very end of the Civil War. And there we view slavery from a broader yet no less horrific perspective.

The white family has fled to safety. Two of their slaves, now free men, have stayed behind. They are joined by the family’s only son, a badly wounded Confederate soldier; home, he says, from Petersburg, home from Hell, home to a vastly changed relationship with his former slaves.

This is a Jewish household where the slaves were raised in the religion of their masters, and it’s time for the annual celebration of Passover, a commemoration of the deliverance of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. The unlikely threesome manages to pull together the ritual foods necessary for the Passover meal and as it takes place, we are reminded of the indignities of slavery wherever it is found.

Directed with a sure hand by Scott Nolte, the play demands our consideration of contemporary issues of human rights and notions of equality. Simon, the older former slave hasn’t yet come to a full understanding of the promised new world. He has patience and is respectful. William Hall, Jr., is magnificent as this elder caught between two worlds.

John AKA “Nigger John” is younger, more volatile. He knows what freedom means. As Tyler Trerise portrays him, he’s impatient, high spirited. He’s doesn’t think he’ll wait around for an eventual social reorganization. But he too is trapped.

The great strength of this production is the way these two play off one another as they deal with Caleb (Ryan Childers) their horribly wounded former master who is now dependent upon their kindness. Loyalty doesn’t really count in this new world as the somewhat bewildered Caleb learns.

This is a really fine production on a truly thought provoking subject.

Through April 27 at Taproot Theatre, 204 N. 85th St., Seattle, $15-$40; (206 781-9707 or www.taproottheatre.org)

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