The Trustus Theatre’s performance of Mario Lopez’s awarding-winning Civil War play opens at the Columbia Music Festival Association 7:30 p.m. March 12.
The Whipping Man continues Trustus Theatre’s Off-Off Lady Street Series, an experiment to bring theatre to nontraditional venues across Columbia. The series began last August at Tapp’s Art Center with Robbie Robertson’s “The Twitty Triplets.” For The Whipping Man, Trustus Threatre partnered with the CMFA and the NiA Company, a theatre group committed to bringing artistic programs to minorities, at-risk youths and economically challenged groups.
The Whipping Man is set shortly after the end of the Civil War. Confederate soldier Caleb, played by Bobby Bloom, is a Jewish plantation owner who has returned from the War. When he comes home, he finds that his family is missing, and the only people left are his former slaves John and Simon (played by Mario McClean and Darion McCloud, respectively).
“There’s three characters, and I don’t know, I wouldn’t say there’s a single main character,” said Bloom. “It’s about all three of their relationships with each other.”
Together, Caleb, John and Simon must work through their differences as former master and slaves while they celebrate Passover, a holiday celebrating the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt.
“It’s a great story that takes place in such a short period of time,” said McLean. “It’s really heavy material, but it keeps you captivated. I think I was just overwhelmed by the history of it.”
Bloom, like McLean, was also struck by the historical facts the play bases itself on. “The fact that there were Jewish slave owners in the South I had never really considered, just because Judaism is based around being freed from slavery,” said Bloom.
Both Bloom and McClean expressed their dedication to preparing for their challenging roles. McClean, who has performed in several musicals, admitted he initially felt a bit out of his element getting into the mind of former slave John.
“It was terrifying, but it’s so much more work that I was looking forward to getting into about acting, because in musicals, you’ll have a musical number that carries you through and songs that pretty much tell you how to feel. This being my first non-musical, it was a big challenge.”
Bloom, who was introduced to the script two years ago by cast mate Darion McCloud, said that his biggest challenge was learning how to communicate with an off-screen character.
“There’s a letter in this show, and I’ve actually never had a letter onstage before,” said Bloom. “I’ve had to create an entirely new relationship with someone who is not even there,
and there’s not even a person playing that character. I’ve had to approach a lot of things differently than I usually approach them.”
Performances of “The Whipping Man” will continue for the next week. The show will take a break on the Sabbath, return to the stage March 16, and end its run March 22, three days before Passover. Tickets to “The Whipping Man” are $10 and can be purchased at the CMFA door.