BWW Reviews: Strand's BUTLER Astonishes Audiences at Peninsula Players Theatre
Astonished. Demanded. Surprised. These few simple words ignite the provocative action in Peninsula Players Theatre Midwest premiere of Richard Strand's equally entrallling BUTLER. Staged in Fish Creek at the company's theatrical home along the Green Bay shores, the captivating civil war drama focuses on these words in the opening moments of the two act production, an intriguing catalyst that reveals itself by the final scenes of this entertaining and exceptional play.
Strand constructs his drama around a recently enlisted Major General Benjamin Franklin Butler, his Lieutenant Kelly and a belligerent, volatile slave, Shepherd Mallory. They engage at Virginia's Fort Monroe after the state has finally seceded from the Union, following similar action of several other Southern states. While the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850 (a law stating that runaway slaves needed to be returned to their owners under the threat of punishment) hoped to compromise Northern and Southern interests in regards to the institution of slavery, to avoid the dissolution of the United States, the North began moving to take a military stance against the South at the time of Strand's play in 1861.
In the Fort Monroe office of Major General Butler, the general will be astonished that three runaway slaves request sanctuary at his fort, when he has only been in charge a mere month. Butler spent his pre-military life working as a lawyer, exhibiting mixed feelings about the new President, Abraham Lincoln, when he confronts the requests and legal ramifications of this 1850 law against the ebony skinned fugitives banging at his fort's door.
Strand infuses humor, warmth and wit into the camaraderie experienced by Butler, Kelly and Mallory, completely opposite of what an audience might expect depicted in films such as A Few Good Men. Almost revolutionary in these concepts, completely unexpected, Strand visualizes unique situations over glasses of sherry that actors Artistic Director Greg Vinkler (Butler), Sean Fortunato (Kelly) and Sean Parris (Mallory) marvelously capture on stage. Emotions in part due to Kristine Thatcher's extraordinary, compassionate direction.
What transpires between these three very different men in three separate cultural hierarchies surprises the audience with fresh nuances in their personalities and shatters preconceptions on lawyers, race and the military. Thatcher draws from Strand's script and her actors, flawed, wonderful humans entering a turbulent experience in their personal and corporate lives. A time when their homes and homeland were being divided while previous social structures fall to the wayside. How does the human heart effectively transition with these pervasive, ever changing conditions?
Butler's characters confront real issues, perplexed by their responses and ultimate decisions, often transforming their ideals in the performance with delightful believability. Serious situations and subjects the play overlays with humor, giving the audience an ability to laugh at their own prejudices and foibles, unashamed, even when in a commanding position, superior to other persons, similar to Butler.
When does a person or society decide to overstep protocol for the greater good? Defy a law, even when attempting to do so peacefully, to protest injustice, inhumanity and save lives? The United Stares was founded on such protests, and how do individuals concede these dilemmas in their minds and collective conscious?
Underscoring these three very likable characters, accomplished technicians, Costume Designer Kärin Simonson Kopischke, Lighting Designer Jason Fassl and Scenic Designer Jack Magaw-create a demand---remember this word--for this play to be seen by Door County audiences. To reveal much more of the production's intriguing scenario, would be unfair. When leaving the theater under the Northern Sky after a performance, audiences will contemplate what they might have done, will do in the future, when duty and law might require a higher calling or protocol: Interesting premises to ponder during a premiere too surprising to miss.
Fish Creek's Peninsula Players Theatre presents Richard Strand's BUTLER through August 31. For additional programming, information or tickets, please call 920.868.3287 or visit peninsulaplayers.com