Thomas Olajide and Brett Donahue (photo credit: Keith Barker)
as with most sea changes some people swim and others sink
by Philip Akin
[Philip Akin has been acting and directing for over 30 years. In 2000, he was a founding member of Obsidian Theatre, Canada’s leading black theatre company, and has served as its Artistic Director since 2006. In this role, he has worked tirelessly to provide opportunities and guidance for emerging artists. In 2002, he was part of the team that launched the Obsidian Mentor/Apprentice Program, a one-of-a-kind program that has so far helped 31 black artists embark on exciting careers as directors, dramaturges, producers, production managers, lighting, set and costume designers with some of the most established performing arts companies nationwide.]It always seems like a surprise to me that Obsidian ended up doing a season based on freedom and what it means with two plays that have whips as central characters. I mean I am the guy who wouldn't let people in my first playwrights units write about immigrating to Canada, growing up Black in any small Canadian town, slavery or the Underground Railroad. I did that because I always believed that Black Theatre was being defined by just those subjects and I wanted to widen the vision as it were.
The play has been a profound shock to see in previews.
So this season ended up looking like it would fit into those proscribed categories but in fact they don't quite. From an historical point of view The Whipping Man seems to be a bit of a twist on the old slave owner coming home after the Civil War and having to deal with former slaves. But when that somewhat obvious storyline gets woven around a Jewish slave owner who raised their slaves to be Jewish you now have a complication of Biblical proportions. Well Old Testament or Torah proportions anyway.