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War. Religion. Brotherhood. Slavery. Freedom.

The American Civil War has been retold in many ways, but none in the gripping, powerful fashion Matthew Lopez has provided us with in “The Whipping Man.”

Lopez takes us to a time we can only envision in history books – April 9, 1865. A landmark moment in American history when General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox.

A surrender that changed the world forever;  just one week after slaves saw the chains on their wrists unlocked. A world where they were now free.

And this is where the story begins with a hobbling, young Jewish Confederate soldier, Caleb DeLeon, played by Jay Wilkison limping into a run-down house in Richmond, Virginia. A house rotted to its core by the war and torrential rains.

Caleb, soaked in rain and blood, falls to the ground alerting the only habitant of the house, Simon, a senior Black man played by Andre Braugher who slowly paced to the front door with a shotgun.

“Who goes there?”

When the face-off occurred, the barrel of the shotgun was disappointed as it only saw a face familiar for years, not an enemy. What it saw was a different relationship – former owner and former slave.

But even more striking was the religion these cast members shared – the Jewish faith. A religion the DeLeon family branded Simon with. A faith that left them with many unanswered questions.

Enter John. A young slave who is Caleb’s age played by Andre Holland. John never agreed with the notion of “being free” that Simon kept repeating they now were. He was a slave whose complexities ranged from the mind of a genius to the heart of a thief.

But he always questioned Caleb’s parents. How they forbade him from reading books at a certain age. How he had to sneak books in to the house. How his misbehavior got him a visit to “The Whipping Man.” A visit that wasn’t only marked by Caleb’s father whipping him, but Caleb, in the ultimate betrayal, taking his turns at whipping John as well.

“Were we Jews or were we just slaves?” asked John. “The bible states that Jews cannot enslave Jews.”  To which Simon responded: “You don’t lose faith by asking, but you lose it by not asking.”

But in a world where you’re treated as lesser than; in a world where a punishment almost kills you; and in a world where a misstep can have you hanging from a tree, the thought of religion and those who practice it can be lost on even the man with the most lasting faith.

The play climaxes with the Passover Seder in which all three men reveal secrets many didn’t expect. How John killed “The Whipping Man” and the whole Virginia is after him; How the daughter and wife of Simon, who lived in the house with all of them were sold by Caleb’s father. But most shocking is why they were sold – because Caleb slept with Simon’s daughter and she was due with child.

Simon, in a state of disbelief and anger left both men at the house to search for his family. But he left both men with a revelation.

“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree when it comes to sleeping with slaves. Just look at your brother over there.”

John, who grew up looking at Caleb as a friend, was only brought in by Caleb’s father because he was his son from a slave woman.  The two men who did everything from reading books to being part of the harshest brutalities ever inflicted on men, were brothers.

The Whipping Man is a compelling work that packs a story worthy of a movie into two hours. A story that as long ago as it may be, holds weight today in a nation that may be much closer than back then, but is still divided through race and religion.