During the evacuation, the Confederate army set fire to buildings throughout the city to keep reserves of tobacco, cotton and other supplies out of Union hands. Other Richmonders looted before leaving. At around 11 p.m. that night, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, along with members of his cabinet, took the last train out of the city and escaped to Danville, Va.
The evacuation cleared the way for a next step. On April 4, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln visited Richmond, which had officially fallen to the Union a day earlier. Members of Lincoln’s party told stories of the president touring the Confederate Congressional chambers, visiting Richmond’s famous Libby Prison and even stopping at the Confederate White House to sit in President Davis’ empty chair. One famous account told of a group of freed slaves who bowed when the president approached, to which Lincoln replied, “Kneel to God only, and thank him for the liberty you will hereafter enjoy.” The president returned to Washington, D.C., after spending four days in Richmond—and only the day before Lee’s final surrender at Appomattox Court House on April 9. Six days later, Lincoln was assassinated at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C.
|The Confederate White House in Richmond, Virginia|
Like many of the buildings in Richmond, the DeLeons’ house was destroyed and looted during the city’s evacuation, but Simon assures Caleb that the family and their former slaves managed to escape unharmed. Before Caleb can ask any more questions, Simon notices the week-old bullet wound on the soldier’s leg. Gangrene has already set in and Simon, who worked in the hospital during the war, knows that immediate amputation is the only way to save Caleb’s life.
When John, another former slave in the DeLeon household, arrives, Simon tries to convince Caleb to go to the hospital for the amputation. Caleb refuses, although he won’t say why. With time running out, Simon performs the amputation himself, with only John by his side and some whiskey to clean the wound.
As Caleb convalesces, the three men grapple with how their lives will change now that the war has ended, and a tension grows between them. With Passover underway, Simon, a devout Jew, decides to hold a makeshift Seder. For all of them, the ritual of honoring the Israelites’ escape from slavery in Egypt carries a profound meaning in April 1865. But even the shared experience of the Seder isn’t enough to hold these men together, for each has deep secrets—and it’s only a matter of time until they’re revealed.
With rich characters, surprising plot twists and a pivotal moment in American history as a backdrop, The Whipping Man tells a harrowing and thought-provoking story. While writing the play, Lopez, the son of whom he describes as “Civil War buffs,” was interested in dramatizing “the first tentative steps of the long, painful, hopeful journey that began in April 1865 and continues today.”
Since it first premiered at New Jersey’s Luna Stage in 2006, The Whipping Man has had more than 30 productions across the country, making it one of the most widely produced new American plays in the last several years. Its success thrust Lopez into the national spotlight and has made him one of the country’s most sought-after playwrights. With his incredible range as a writer and his skill at bringing complex relationships to life, it’s no surprise that Lopez’s work is so popular with audiences. He is currently under commission to write new plays for a number of major theatres across the nation—and SCR is thrilled to be one of them.
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