PCS Blog

Words From the Playwright

Posted by Kinsley Suer | 08 March 2013

Matthew Lopez is the playwright of The Whipping Man, which is currently one of the most popular plays in America; productions have been planned in more than 15 U.S. cities this season alone. But what's truly remarkable is that The Whipping Man is the very first play that Matthew ever wrote. So what was it about this harrowing period in our country's history that sparked Matthew's creative juices? Below, the man himself responds.

History is an unending sequence of great and calamitous events. To paraphrase Alan Bennett for a family audience: history is simply one thing after another.
But that is the history of kings, nations and armies and it ignores completely the people who are caught up in its unyielding progression. To look at it from a different perspective, history is the story of life interrupted, suspended momentarily, and then put back differently. History is the constant reshuffling of the deck of cards that is the human experience. What fascinate me are the moments that history skips over: when calamity subsides and life is free to return to normal.
Of course, after such events, “normal” is rarely the state to which life returns. The deck is never shuffled the same way twice. A new “normal” takes the place of the old. How, for example, do you pass through the gates of a newly liberated Auschwitz and begin to live again? How, when the machetes are finally put away, does a Rwandan return to her quotidian routines? And how, after centuries of bondage, do slaves become free people? What is the first morning like? How long does it take to register the immensity of that change? What, simply, do you do? For American slaves, in particular, there was no “normal” to return to. Their deck wasn’t reshuffled. It was replaced entirely.
Those are the questions that prompted me to write The Whipping Man.
The Whipping Man could never tell that story in its entirety. No one piece of fiction ever could. My hope is that this play tells the story of the first tentative steps of the long, painful, hopeful journey that began in April 1865 and continues today.
And so, in one southern home in April 1865, two slaves and their former master, all self-identifying Jews, celebrate the observance of Pesach together. As they do, they each come to realize the immensity of the moment they find themselves in and of the tremendous scars, both real and psychological, they bear from their encounter with slavery. It is the story about when history ends and life begins again, much like the springtime in which the story is set.”
   - Playwright Matthew Lopez
Courtesy of the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, which produced The Whipping Man in 2010.
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