BWW Reviews: BUTLER at NJ Rep - A Fascinating and Entertaining Historical Play
"Lawyers manipulate language to make the laws what they want them to be."
From Butler by Richard Strand
The World Premiere of Butler is now being performed at New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) in Long Branch through July 13th. It is a completely entertaining play, artfully written by Richard Strand. Butler has received the prestigious Edgerton Foundation New American Play Award. It is based on real life events that changed the lives of more than 10,000 slaves. Director, Joseph Discher, has done a superb job of bringing this story to the NJ Rep stage with flawless staging and creative touches.
The play is set at the start of the Civil War. Benjamin Butler (Ames Adamson), a Massachusetts lawyer, is promoted to Major General and given command of Fort Monroe, a Union hold-out in the state of Virginia. Butler is a spirited and independent individual who finds himself in an explosive situation when Shepard Mallory (John G. Williams), a runaway slave, requests sanctuary at the fort along with two other slaves. Assisting Butler in his official duties at the fort is the diligent and serious West-Point graduate, Lieutenant Kelly (Benjamin Stirling).
According to the law of the land, Shepard Mallory is considered property and must be turned over to his owners in the South, a situation that would surely result in the man's death. Benjamin Butler is confronted with a moral dilemma, one which is compounded when the fort is visited by Confederate officer, Major Cary (David Sitler), who intends to take back Mallory.
The play takes place in Major General Butler's office and the dialogue between the men is very lively. Butler is a cantankerous sort, yet thoughtful and intelligent. Mallory is a defiant young man, relentless in his desire to stay at the fort. And, it is Kelly who attempts to maintain order in the face of difficult circumstances.
The four man cast is outstanding in their roles. Ames Adamson as Butler brings just the right touch of humanity to his very demanding role. John G. Williams as Mallory has his part just right. He is at first presented as a "dislikable" character. Yet, as the play unfolds and more is revealed, Mallory's personality is well understood. Benjamin Stirling maintains the right tenor as the lieutenant who strives to maintain his professionalism. And David Sitler's portrayal of Major Carey brings the Old South alive when he visits Butler's office.
There is just the right amount of humor in Butler, moments in the play that keep it moving and offset the serious nature of the subject. It is a very significant piece of theater, a timeless exploration of social conscience and individual responsibility.
You don't have to be a history buff to enjoy Butler, now at New Jersey Repertory through July 13th. For tickets call 732-229-3166 or visit www.njrep.org.
Photo Credit: SuzAnne Barabas .