Award Winning Drama on Race Relations

by Justine Dodgen

On February 17, The Bedrosian Center will host the first event of the Center’s newest program series, Policy at the Playhouse. With this series, the Bedrosian Center aims to recognize that conversations about governance take place in diverse spaces and are voiced by many different communities. The first event will be a viewing and post-show discussion of The Whipping Man at the historic Pasadena Playhouse.

 The Whipping Man, a play by emerging playwright Matthew Lopez, tells the story of a wounded confederate soldier who returns to the ruins of his family estate at the close of the Civil War. Two of the family’s recently-freed slaves remain, and the play centers on the three men, all devout Jews, as they share Passover together. The play’s themes toy with the tension between the three’s shared religious history and divisive personal experiences, the parallels between the Passover story of the Israelites escaping bondage in Egypt and the former slaves’ newfound freedom, and how the three men must find their places in the country’s new social order.

First produced in 2006, The Whipping Man has gone on to win several awards and become one of the most frequently produced dramas. Lopez, a young gay man of Puerto Rican descent, is often asked how he was inspired to write this story, to which he replies that the play’s themes of identity, inclusion, and exclusion relate to his own experience. Another inspiration, he reports, was the documentary play Fires in the Mirror, which tells the story of fatal confrontations between blacks and Hasidic Jews in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Watching this story, he says, “I saw two groups not seeing their shared history of enslavement and persecution.”

In a recent LA Times interview, Lopez was asked about the relevance of his story to America’s post-Ferguson environment and dialogue about race. “My play predates all of those things, but it suggests that these are not settled matters, and they are not ever going to go away unless we face them,” he said. “We have to accept our history; we have to own it.”

At the event’s post-show discussion, Professor Bostic will join Sam Erman, Assistant Professor at USC Gould School of Law and scholar of U.S. race relations, and Charlie Robinson, who plays one of the former slaves, to talk about the ongoing relevance of the play’s themes and their importance to effective governance.

$15 tickets are available for USC students (a code is needed, email us to get it) and a limited number of discounted group tickets are available for faculty and staff. Tickets may be purchased by on Eventbrite, click here.