‘The Whipping Man’ explores war

Playwright Matthew Lopez brings a heartfelt and unique story set in Virginia only a few days after the Civil War to the stage of The Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre.

The West Coast premiere of “The Whipping Man” takes a peek into a significant time in American history, but the play is a character-based story about a Jewish Confederate soldier and former slave owner who comes home to find his slaves about to have a Passover Seder.

“I was interested in telling an American story about how life returns to normal after a calamity,” Lopez said. “The biggest calamity we’ve had that seemed dramatically ripe was the Civil War and Emancipation. We sort of had a dual calamity there — war and slavery.

“I wanted to explore how you go from being a slave to being free ... the psychological change within you,” he said. “And while the play has historical imperatives that I had to keep in mind while writing, rather than define my characters, I like to let them speak for themselves, but I also keep some sort of boundaries so they feel like real people.”

Lopez (“Tio Pepe,” “Zoey’s Perfect Wedding,” “Reverberation”) was in town for a few rehearsals. He said he is very pleased with the cast, which includes Charlie Robinson (“Fences,” “My Wandering Boy” TV’s “Night Court,” “Roots”); Mark J. Sullivan (“The Sisters Rosensweig,” “To Be or Not to Be,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”); and Avery Glymph (“Overwhelming,” “Stick Fly,” “The Tempest” and TV’s “Ugly Betty”).

Lopez also said he enjoyed his collaboration with director Giovanna Sardelli (“Wildflower,” “Animals Out of Paper,” “All This Intimacy,” “Taking Flight”).

“I’ve been very fortunate in my career to work with great directors, and Giovanna was a dream,” Lopez said. “The relationship between writer and director can be many different things, but I was 100 percent confident in what she would do with the play.

“I kind of have the same approach with the actors. Because I’ve been an actor, I try to write lines that will, one day, actually be spoken by actors. And as a writer, I try to be in service of the actor about his character during the rehearsal period.”

Lopez said he is extremely impressed by The Old Globe team and the theater, and really likes that the new Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre provides an intimate space for the actors and audience. Ultimately, Lopez sees “The Whipping Man” as a reminder that history “is not always as we were told, and is not always dry.”

“My play’s about three people in crisis, stuck in a space ... and how to survive,” Lopez said. “American history is filled with intersections of different races, religions and experiences, and what makes our country so unique is we are a result of those intersections of the past.

“I feel confident that this is a compelling story and one that the audience will be swept up by.”

‘The Whipping Man’

  • Previews: 8 p.m. May 8; 7 p.m. May 9, 12 and 13
  • Performances: 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays; 7 p.m. Sundays, through June 13
  • Where: The Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park
  • Tickets: $29-$62. (619) 23-GLOBE,