“The Whipping Man” highlights racial tension

By Hayley Dillon, @HayleyDillon_DE

“The Whipping Man” is a story that intertwines three histories: Jewish, African-American and the American Civil War. 

The play focuses on a tightly knit Jewish family with two slaves. Nathaniel Washington, a sophomore from Evansville, Ind., studying musical theater, plays John, one of the slaves.

“The first time I read it I thought it was intense,” Washington said. “It was a really good play and I knew I wanted to be in it.”


The play is directed by Segun Ojewuyi, who said he’s directed about 60 to 70 plays worldwide. He’s gone on two international tours, including stops in Europe and Israel.

He said theater is a fundamental part of understanding the world.

“It is live. It is immediate. It is directly interacting,” Ojewuyi said. “It speaks to peoples’ minds and their intellect. It also speaks to society’s conscience.”

With the large influence theater has, Ojewuyi wanted to be sure the theater department chose the right play to perform.

“We have chosen [‘The Whipping Man’] as part of the celebration of [Black History] Month,” Ojewuyi said. “Also to revisit history, but essentially to point out that history is not something that is dead.”

Ojewuyi said “The Whipping Man” approaches global issues like prejudice and violence in a way that forces people to think about how they contribute to these problems.

“It touches on faith and spirituality,” Ojewuyi said. “It touches on politics, touches on family issues, touches on culture and, in a very nice way, brings up all the things that we’re wrestling with.”


Alan Chapman, who came to see “The Whipping Man” despite his recent knee surgery, said he enjoyed seeing the way the family in the play, as different as all the characters are, is brought together.

“I like the fact that we have blacks and they’re Jewish and they’re slaves, yet they’re family,” Chapman said. 

Ojewuyi said he wanted to make his version of the play stand out, and did this by putting an emphasis on religion.

“In previous productions that we have seen, people have highlighted the Civil War for their interpretations,” he said. “What I have seized upon is the spirituality of the different cultures present and how they interact, because of that spiritual centeredness they are able to find a common ground to move forward.”

Angela Worman, a junior from Dieterich studying mortuary science, said strong role Judaism has in the play is important.

“It’s good that they show the religion part of it,” Worman said. “It’s very interesting to watch.”

Ojewuyi said theater serves a great purpose to society. He used a metaphor to explain the play’s importance.

“’The Whipping Man’ is like an intersection and it’s a stoplight,” he said. “Then in our lives we can just stop, take a pause and review how we, as individuals and as communities, are contributing to the prejudice and the hatred that is destroying our world.” 

“The Whipping Man” is being performed at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2:00 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets, which are available at the door an hour before each performance, are $6 for students and $16 for others. 

Advance tickets are available from noon to 5 p.m. on weekdays at McLeod Theater or SIU Arena box offices. 

Tickets can also be ordered by phone at 618-453-6000 or at the SIU Ticket Office.

Hayley Dillon can be reached at [email protected].