Arts & Entertainment

‘The Whipping Man’ explores legacy of slavery

From left: Jesse Hinson plays a wounded Confederate soldier; Johnny Lee Davenport and Keith Mascoll play his former slaves.
From left: Jesse Hinson plays a wounded Confederate soldier; Johnny Lee Davenport and Keith Mascoll play his former slaves.Credit: Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures

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At one point in Matthew Lopez’s “The Whipping Man,’’ set a few days after the end of the Civil War, a former slave named Simon stiffens when Caleb, a member of the family that once owned him, issues a peremptory command.

“All these things you’re telling me to do, by rights now you need to be asking me to do,’’ Simon tells Caleb.

As spoken by the estimable Johnny Lee Davenport, who plays Simon in the New Repertory Theatre production of “The Whipping Man’’ directed by Benny Sato Ambush, those words register with an understated but unmistakable force. The message: Everything is different now. Caleb’s own dire condition is physical (and maybe metaphorical) evidence of that. Though its plot takes a couple of detours into potboiler territory, “The Whipping Man’’ is on balance an unflinching exploration, in vivid close-up, of slavery’s legacy.

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THE WHIPPING MAN

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