Highly Recommended ***** First of all, when you see the title of the new production at Northlight, “Butler”, know that this is not anything to do with the film of a similar name. That was “The Butler” while this is “Butler” , plain and simple and in reality is based on a real person, General Benjamin Franklin Butler ( played to perfection by Chicago favorite Greg Vinkler), who during the Civil War became a General in the Union Army in charge of Fort Monroe, Virginia. This was at the very onset of the war when many lawyers and judges as well as politicians were asked to help with the war efforts.
“Butler” written by Richard Strand tells us about this controversial General and the events that caused him to be well-known. In this production ,smoothly directed by Stuart Carden, we first meet the General when his aide Lieutenant Kelly (deftly handled by Nate Burger) comes to his office to advise him that three escaped slaves have entered the fort and the leader demands to be seen by the Major General. This is where we begin to learn a bit more about Butler and some of his nuances. It seems that the “leader” of these slaves, one Shepard Mallory (a superb character played by the brilliant Tosin Morohunfola), understands a great deal more about the world than most Negroes might, but he wants to become a part of the Union Army and not have to be returned to his Confederate “owner”.
As we learn during the scenes that follow, despite the conflict between the states, the laws require that any slaves be returned to their rightful owner. Butler, after learning more about his “captive” decides that sending Shepard back might just mean certain death, so when Major Cary ( of the Confederate army) comes to see him and demands that his General’s “slave” be returned, Butler seeks a solution that will satisfy the law as written, his personal ethics, and what is fair and honest. The play is filled with humor, with the players working in close harmony in their delivery of the lines that Strand has so skillfully written.
The first act is divided into several short scenes allowing us to meet the main characters and get a true understanding of how they feel about the war, the judicial system, slavery and of course, each other. It is roughly 50 minutes, followed by a 15 minute intermission and then another 60 minutes of Act Two, In the second act we meet Major Cary (Tim Monison) and learn more about Butler and his plan. It is incredible and delightful ,and despite its uncanny nature, quite plausible. Butler was a man of contradiction during his career, as first an Attorney, then Governor of Massachusetts, and finally a member of Congress. While the South despised him for his treatment of same, and his freeing of slaves as “contraband” during the war, he was the man who commanded the first regiments of African- American soldiers and were awarded the Butler Medal for bravery in battle. Nice story! Told with great feeling and warmth with a cast that is divine.
The set by Jeffrey D. Kmiec is stunning with great lighting by Sarah Hughey. The costumes *Rachel Laritz) are a bit easier as they are Civil War uniforms for the most part and the sound by Andrew Pluess allows us to hear every word in this wonderful story. I was a bit taken aback by the opening background music and its Irish sounds, but this production is solid through and through. “Butler” will continue at Northlight Theatre located at 9501 N. Skokie Boulevard in Skokie (just South of Golf Road/Old Orchard Center) thru April 17th with performances as follows:
(no afternoon on 4/13)
Thursdays 7:30 p.m.
Fridays 8 p.m.
Saturdays 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Sundays 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. on April 3rd
Tickets range from $25-$79 with student tickets at $15 (subject to availability) and can be purchased at the box office, by calling 847-673-6300 or online at www.northlight.org
Plenty of free parking on the grounds
to see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Butler”