In what might be one of the most unlikely scenarios in modern theater, a Jewish plantation owner returns to his ravaged property after the Civil War ends, only to sit down for a Passover seder with two of his former slaves in Matthew Lopez’s The Whipping Man, which opens tonight at 8 p.m. for a run at Curious Theatre. But it’s more possible than you might think, says co-director and Curious overseer Chip Walton. “While the specific story is fictitious, it’s also grounded in fact,” he notes. “There were 50,000 Jews living in the American South on the eve of the Civil War, and many were slave owners — which creates some interesting moral questions.” Walton adds that, as a period piece, the play is a bit of a departure for Curious, which usually sticks to more contemporary fare. But there’s a reason for that: “In addition to being surprised at every turn, it takes place during this fascinating collision of history, religions and cultures that are all located in a remarkable historical moment. In 1865, the last Confederate army surrendered and the Civil War ended, slavery was abolished by the 13th Amendment, the Ku Klux Klan was founded, Lincoln was assassinated...and Passover began the day after General Lee surrendered at Appomattox. When you think about the enormity of those things that happened in our country in that one year, it’s pretty stunning.”
Yes, questions will be asked, lots of them, and the answers will resonate all the way into modern times. “Ultimately, one question I’m still wrestling with as I continue to work on the play is, what does freedom really mean?” Walton says. “How does someone who has never known freedom all of a sudden be told they’re free and...do what? And how did the Jews confront their own history of slavery?” See The Whipping Man at Curious, 1080 Acoma Street, for answers. Shows run Thursdays through Sundays through February 15; for information and tickets, $18 to $44, go to curioustheatre.org or call 303-623-0524.
Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Starts: Jan. 11. Continues through Feb. 15, 2014