Peninsula Players' BUTLER Begins 8/20

Richard Strand's Civil War drama "Butler" makes its Midwest Première August 20 at Peninsula Players Theatre, America's oldest professional resident summer theater and Door County's theatrical icon. "Butler" is a winner of the Edgerton Foundation New American Plays Program and made its world première in June at the New Jersey Repertory Company.

Strand will be in residence at the Players to enhance his work with the cast including Broadway veteran and Players Artistic Director Greg Vinkler who is cast in the title role of historical figure Major General Benjamin Butler.

Butler reports to duty at Fort Monroe, a Union hold-out fort in Virginia. On his first day, 153 years ago, three runaway slaves, including Shepard Mallory, row across the James River to the fort and ask for sanctuary. Butler's decision and actions have repercussions that ripple through the rest of the Civil War. While these events were real, Strand takes audiences into the fort and provides a fictional look at what could have been discussed.

Strand has created a series of scorching confrontations between Mallory, the unexpectedly literate runaway slave, and Butler.

"We are fighting to uphold the law," Butler says to the very smart and stubborn runaway slave Shepard Mallory. "We can't suddenly decide to break the law in order to uphold it."

Mallory replies: "Sure you can. You're a lawyer. You can twist the law. You can make the law be anything you want it to be. You can make a law mean the opposite of what it's supposed it mean. That's what lawyers do, isn't it?"

Strand became aware of the historical events from a footnote in a Lincoln biography. "The information was tantalizing because it didn't make logical sense," Strand said in an interview with the New Jersey Repertory Company. "I couldn't understand why an anti-abolitionist supporter of Jefferson Davis would take such a personally risky stand against slavery. Doing more reading about Benjamin Butler didn't really answer that question. Writing the play was my attempt to find a plausible explanation for something that seemed inexplicable."

Peninsula Players veteran actress, director and playwright Kristine Thatcher ("The Tin Woman," "And Then There Were None") directs this production of "Butler" for the Players where she has also directed "Over the Tavern" and "Miracle on South Division Street."

In addition, Thatcher is a playwright whose works include "Emma's Child," "Voice of Good Hope," "Under Glass," "Among Friends," "Niedecker" and the Door County-themed "Apparitions." She has been commissioned by Cit Lit Theater in Chicago to write a play about the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.

"Richard has done a wonderful thing with this play," said Thatcher. "He has taken a very important moment in American history, one that had a profound affect on slavery in this country, and tried to imagine how the conversations around this tidal moment might have transpired.

"These young men were considered to be the slave property of Colonel Charles King Mallory of the 115th Regiment of Virginia Militia. They were admitted to the fort and taken to its newly arrived major general, Benjamin Franklin Butler, whom they asked for asylum.

"Butler was a controversial figure and no abolitionist. But as he began to question the three young men, Butler, who was an experienced attorney, became intrigued. The law was crystal clear: under the Compromise of 1850, the Fugitive Slave Act had been passed, which made it a crime for any individual to refuse to return a run-away to his or her owner. To aid and abet in the act of sheltering a slave could and would result in a fine of $1,000 (About $28,000 in today's money) and imprisonment. Major General Butler was sworn to uphold the law. His hands were tied. Or were they?"

Thatcher's cast is comprised of Players veteran actors Vinkler, as Butler; Sean Fortunato as Lieutenant Kelly, a recent West Point graduate; and Tim Monsion as Major Cary, a Confederate officer who comes to claim Shepard. Making their Peninsula Players debut are Sean Parris as the determined runaway, Shepard Mallory; and Peter Brian Kelly and Andrew Purvis, two members of the Peninsula Players internship program.

Vinkler ("Heroes," "Opus," "The Game's Afoot") is the Players artistic director and has portrayed other historical figures such as Sir Thomas More in "A Man for All Seasons" and Salieri in "Amadeus." He is a Joseph Jefferson, After Dark and Artisan Award-winning actor who has performed in more than 35 productions at Chicago Shakespeare. He has performed at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon, the Barbican Theatre in London, Vienna's English Theatre and Singapore Rep. Vinkler appeared on Broadway in the Tony Award-winning revival of "West Side Story."

Fortunato ("The Mystery of Irma Vep," "Chicago," "Doubt," "Sunday in the Park with George") recently closed a production of "M. Butterfly" with Court Theatre. His additional credits include Off-Broadway "Rose Rage" at The Duke on 42nd and regionally "Measure for Measure" at the Goodman Theatre and "Travels with My Aunt" at Writers Theatre.

Monsion's ("Opus," "Heroes," "Murder on the Nile," "And Then There Were None") regional credits include The Goodman, The Kennedy Center and Cincinnati Playhouse. His television credits include "Modern Family" and "Law and Order: Los Angeles."

Parris makes his Peninsula Players debut as Shepard Mallory. His Chicago credits include "The Whipping Man" at Northlight Theatre, "The Solid Sand Below" at Goodman Theatre New Stages and "The Drunken City" at Steppenwolf Garage.

Kelly and Purvis are participants of the 2014 Peninsula Players internship program and are make their Players debut. Kelly of Monroe, Wisconsin is a recent graduate of University of Wisconsin-Whitewater with dual degrees in theater performance and general management. Purvis of Colorado Springs, Colorado, is a student at Knox College majoring in theater.

The creative team of "Butler" includes Players veteran award-winning designers Jack Magaw scenic design ("Sunday in the Park with George," "The Games' Afoot," "Heroes," "Opus"); Jason Fassl, lighting designer ("Lombardi," "Rumors," "Panic" "Is He Dead?"); properties design by Jesse Gaffney ("Miracle on South Division Street"); sound designer Christopher Kriz ("The Game's Afoot," "The Nerd," "The Mystery of Irma Vep"); and costume designer Kärin Simonson Kopischke ("And Then There Were None," "Sunday in the Park with George").

"Butler" is sponsored by BBZ Consulting, LLC., Barbara and Bob Ziegler.

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