Theater can be a powerful tool for teaching us our own forgotten or even lost history. Good theater goes a step further and coaxes a deeply empathetic response, taking us to a place where the painful reverberations of our history are palpable and resonant. In the same week that the country’s collective outrage was focused on the killing of a young black man in Florida, the Kansas City Repertory Theater opens Matthew Lopez’ “The Whipping Man”, a look back at the remnants of a family during the convulsive ending of the Civil War and subsequent emancipation of American slaves. As if this subject is not dramatically loaded enough, Lopez layers in the unexpected conceit that the Southern family at the center of the drama is Jewish, as are their slaves. This makes for fascinating and often riveting drama, and Artistic Director Eric Rosen’s handsome production connects the eviscerating narrative of horror and hope that played out in the spring of 1865 to our continued struggle with issues of race and identity in the 21st century.
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