Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Whipping Man Is a Must-See

by Matthew R. Kerns
photos by Bethany Horning

Roe Lloyd as Simon
Iowa City — It begins with a trip down a drafty church stairwell into the catacombs of this Unitarian place of worship in the heart of Iowa City. Folding chairs, globe lighting, posters, and congregants' name tags line the walls of this now-meeting place for artistic worship. At the far end of the basement is an antiquated auditorium stage that in my imagination has been host to countless holiday pageants, lectures, and community theatres like just like the Dreamwell Theatre Company.

At the beginning of the event Rachel Lindhart, Co-Artistic Director of Dreamwell and Director of this evening's show, offers a curtain speech explaining that the company is spending the entire year examining guilt. She finishes her speech and proceeds to lower the globe lights on the wall behind her. Music arises and we begin Dreamwell’s simplistic but stunning version of The Whipping Man.

I quickly realized that I would need to move from my chair in the back of the house and perch myself atop a folding table to witness this work. Sight lines are an issue in this makeshift space and the blocking on the floor at the top of the production proved difficult for the audience. Lindhart’s instincts are spot on for the piece just difficult for the space we shared.

Masterful moments of work were offered by Felipe Carrasco, Roe Lloyd, and Ruben A. Lebron. Lloyd, as Simon, offers us optimism, joy, humor, and pain so openly and honestly over the course of this two-act piece. Felipe Carrasco’s journey as Caleb was such a clear and solid study in character development that I hated him at the top and loved him in the end. Ruben A. Lebron steals the show in a moment of sheer terror and all-encompassing guilt during the climax of the work. These men have forged a powerful ensemble and their work is not to be missed.

Ruben A. Lebron as John; Feilpe Carrasco as Caleb
Act One is long, or so we were told, but it felt like no time had passed once I was immersed in this Civil War tale. Act Two wraps pretty fast and in my personal belief Matthew Lopez could have taken a bit more time to unfold some of the plot turns before bringing down the final curtain. That said, this script is a pretty great ride. It is a pleasure to watch the aforementioned actors bring this script to life. This production is a must see piece of work.

Some of the finest theatre productions I have ever been witness to have lived inside of spaces that were clever, dirty, and, well… basements. This production reminds me of a top notch Chicago storefront theatre piece of work and I salute the team at Dreamwell Theatre for bringing this simplistic and stunning production to life.

A must see.

The Whipping Man runs one more weekend, January 17 & 18 at 7:30 p.m. in Iowa City, with a talk-back following the Saturday performance. There will also be a special performance in Mount Vernon on Saturday, January 25. Tickets available here.

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