One of the most effective plays of recent years is "The Whipping Man" by University of South Florida graduate Matthew Lopez. The harrowing and unusual look at Civil War-era slavery is one of the highlights of the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe's recently announced 2013-14 season.
The season is titled "Rhythms of Change," and it's designed to take audiences on a journey through American culture from 1865 to 1965.
Lopez's 2011 drama has been widely produced all over the country in its short life, including a memorable production by Tampa's erstwhile Gorilla Theater last year.
"The Whipping Man" revolves around a Jewishfamily in the American South who raise their slaves asJews. It's set just after the Civil War, at Passover -- the celebration of the Hebrews' liberation fromslavery. It's raw and powerful, thought-provoking and touching.
It embraces likeable and complex characters and relationships (there's genuine affection between slave and slave-owner, but just as genuine hatred and resentment), and a mixture of human warmth and shocking cruelty.
The morals are instructive, but it may be best to leave younger children at home.
"The Whipping Man" is the second show of the season, opening Jan. 2 and running one month. It's the only non-musical of the season.
The season opener is "Purlie," the Jim Crow-era musical co-written by Ossie Davis, Philip Rose and Peter Udell, with music by Gary Geld.
It's based on Davis's non-musical play "Purlie Victorious," about a Southern African-American preacher who returns to his small home town to help cotton pickers who still work on a plantation. It premiered on Broadway in 1970, and won Tony Awards for Cleavon Little and Melba Moore.
It runs Nov. 13-Dec. 15 at The Westcoast Black Theatre.
Next up is "Harry and Lena," Feb. 19-March 23. It's a tribute to Harry Belafonte and Lena Horne, the popular and acclaimed singers who faced and battled racism in their careers and their lives.
WBTT arts director Nate Jacobs created the show, which focuses on the period leading up to their stardom and features their best-known songs.
"Bubbling Brown Sugar" closes out the season, April 9-May 11.
It's a revue that celebrates the music set in the Harlem Renaissance, including exuberant tunes by Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and Fats Waller.
Details: 1646 10th Way, Sarasota. Tickets: $80 for season tickets; tickets for individual shows on sale Sept. 1. Information: 941-366-1505, www.wbttsrq.org.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-748-0411. ext. 7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.