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Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014

A Soldier and His Slaves

The Rep’s impressive post-Civil War drama ‘The Whipping Man’

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Set in the South in the days after the Civil War, the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s The Whipping Man concerns a wounded Jewish Confederate soldier returning to his family estate. Two of the former slaves who had worked on the estate return to it as free men for entirely different reasons.

Brent Hazelton directs the cast with authority. James Craven summons a tremendous sense of authority to the stage in the role of Simon, a former slave who has been through much in his lifetime. He has no reason to treat the returning Confederate soldier with kindness, but he does so anyway. There seems to be endless dramatic depth to Craven’s portrayal.

Ro Boddie plays a man from the younger generation who was fortunate enough to be educated. He can read. His scavenger’s street wisdom mixes with the temper of a man who knows he’s been wronged his entire life. Boddie brings a sharp hunger to his portrayal, tempered by a sharper wit that makes his presence the flashiest, most charismatic of the three men.

Josh Landay has the biggest challenge of the three actors. Early in the play his character endures an amputation, keeping him fixed in a single spot. He portrays a tremendous emotional transformation in a soldier who has lost a war and is forced to adapt to a new way of life. Landay renders the complicated character with remarkable sympathy for someone who once owned the two other men. Thoughtful work between the three actors allows for an interesting dynamic between their characters.

The Milwaukee Rep’s production of The Whipping Man runs through March 16 at the Stiemke Studio, 108 E. Wells St. For tickets, call 414-224-9490 or visit milwaukeerep.com.

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