David Schramm as Major General Butler Photos by Kevin Sprague

Barrington Stage has opened its season with a remarkable play, Butler  by Richard Strand. The action takes place early in the Civil War, with General Butler a newly appointed Major General reading about Virginia’s recent secession from the United States. Butler has just taken over command of Fort Monroe, a Union military base on the southern tip of the Virginia Peninsula. He is informed by his lieutenant that three runaway slaves have sought asylum in the fort and that one of them demands to see the General. The play takes off from there.

Now I confess I didn’t know about this event in the Civil War but it turns out to have been an important one.

Ben Cole as Lt. Kelly and David Schramm
Fort Monroe during the Civil War

I have long contended that an important way to teach history is through popular culture. Barrington Stage has done a remarkable job in presenting plays that make our history come alive. The Whipping Man is another example of a play about which Bob and I knew nothing and in which we were completely involved.

It is appropriate for such plays to be on the St. Germain Stage since Mark St. Germain has written many wonderful plays providing historical insight such as Freud’s Last Session and Best of Enemies.  If you know an adolescent who says he or she doesn’t like history because it is boring, immediately take them to see Butler.  As Bob noted to have a play that deals with a serious issue with humor as well as depth is quite remarkable.

Benjamin Franklin Butler had been a lawyer most of his life and there are discussions about lawyers that lead you to think that you might have counseled Shakespeare not to “first kill all l the lawyers,” but to save  the good ones like Butler. He uses his wit and skills cleverly to deal with one of the major issues in our history.

An interview with two actors from Butler


John Hickok as Major Cary and David Shramm
Maurice Jones as Shepard Mallory and David Shramm.

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