Milwaukee Chamber Theatre presents BEN BUTLER

by Richard Strand

April 12-28, 2019

Broadway Theatre Center’s Cabot Theatre

 

Milwaukee, WI. … Moral dilemmas, by definition, aren’t easy to resolve. And the one at the heart of BEN BUTLER is a doozy: Follow the letter of the law, and send an escaped slave back to the Confederacy – or make a game-changing decision that could alter the course of history. Yet this splendid play by Richard Strand goes a step further, daring to be not just a historical drama, but a witty comedy to boot! Directed by Michael Cotey, this production runs April 12-28, 2019, at the Broadway Theatre Center’s Cabot Theatre in the Historic Third Ward.

 

Major General Benjamin Butler was a defense attorney in Boston – until the Civil War began. Now he is in command of Fort Monroe, in southern Virginia, and the law of the United States says that the escaped slave who has demanded to see him must be returned to his owner. But this extremely singular individual – one Shepard Mallory – makes quite a powerful case for himself. Over the next few days, these two unlikely companions wage a battle of wits for the soul of a nation, with life-changing consequences!

 

Our titular major general will be played by Drew Brhel, last seen here in LEND ME A TENOR, while his sparring partner Shepard Mallory will be played by Marques Causey, seen earlier in our season as Davey in STRANGE SNOW. Rounding out the cast are two MCT returnees: David Sapiro, playing Confederate soldier Major Cary, and Chase Stoeger, playing Union soldier Lieutenant Kelly.

 

While playwright Richard Strand has fictionalized the details of BEN BUTLER’s story, the plot and characters are based on a true incident that occurred early in the Civil War. While Butler was in command of Fort Monroe, three runaway slaves arrived at the base and asked to be allowed to stay, which was considered a violation of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 (still United States Law). Butler ultimately argued that enslaved persons were being used as weapons of war, and could be treated as “contraband” – in effect, allowed to remain at the fort to support the Union effort.

 

One element of Strand’s play that differentiates it from a more traditional biographical play is a healthy dose of comedic wit. While the subject matter is often life-or-death, the conversations between these four characters are often ironically hilarious, or feature sequences of back-and-forth repartee.

 

“I find this play itself to be an astonishing and delightful collection of contradictions,” says director Michael Cotey. “It’s fiercely funny one moment but equally not pulling any punches in the next when it comes to dealing with our country’s sordid history of slavery. This shouldn’t work! However, not only does it work, but this mixture of comedy and drama puts a human face and voice to a forgotten and important moment in our history.”

 

While one of Butler’s claims to historical fame is depicted in this production, his role in another important position of leadership has had a lasting impact on Milwaukee. After his service in the war, Butler served his country in many additional capacities, including as a five-term Congressman and a one-term Governor of Massachusetts. But he was also appointed as the first president of the newly formed National Home for Disabled Veteran Soldiers – a precursor to the Veterans Administration – and was directly responsible for commissioning the construction of the Milwaukee Soldiers Home district, located just west of Miller Park on the grounds of the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center.

 

In honor of that legacy, we’ve selected the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance as our Community Partner for the run of BEN BUTLER. The MPA is a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting stewardship and awareness of the historic, cultural, and economic value of Milwaukee’s built heritage, including the Soldiers Home. As part of our collaboration, the MPA and MCT will be promoting a special performance of BEN BUTLER on April 27, which will be preceded by a tour of the Soldiers Home and a guest speaker luncheon at the theatre prior to our 4 pm performance that date. Information about the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance and the Save the Soldiers Home campaign will also be made available in the lobby. For details on the Soldiers Home event, visit butlertour.brownpapertickets.com.

 

BEN BUTLER performances will take place April 12 – April 28, 2019 (Opening Night: Saturday, April 13), in the Broadway Theatre Center’s Cabot Theatre, 158 N. Broadway in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward. Tickets are available Monday through Saturday from noon-6:00 p.m. at the Broadway Theatre Center Box Office, 158 N. Broadway, or by phone at (414) 291-7800. Tickets can be purchased online 24 hours a day at milwaukeechambertheatre.com. Group, student and senior discounts are also available. For more information, visit milwaukeechambertheatre.com. BEN BUTLER is co-sponsored by Elizabeth Levins & Herbert Zien, and Marianne & Sheldon B. Lubar.

 

[ CAST ]

Major General Benjamin Butler ………………………………………………………………………… Drew Brhel*

Shepard Mallory ……………………………………………………………………………………… Marques Causey*

Major Cary …………………………………………………………………………………………………… David Sapiro

Lieutenant Kelly …………………………………………………………………………………………… Chase Stoeger

 

[ PRODUCTION STAFF ]

Director………………………………………………………………………………………………………… Michael Cotey

Stage Manager………………………………………………………………………………………………….. Judy Martel*

Scenic Designer……………………………………………………………………………………………… Lisa Schlenker

Costume Designer……………………………………………………………………………………. Lyndsey Kuhlmann

Lighting Designer…………………………………………………………………………………………… Marisa Abbott

Sound Designer…………………………………………………………………………………………………… Chris Guse

Propmaster………………………………………………………………………………………………………. Madelyn Yee

Dialect Coach………………………………………………………………………………………….. Raeleen McMillion

 

 

[ PERFORMANCE INFORMATION ]

April 12-28, 2019
Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
 

 

  12

8:00 p.m. P

13          

8:00 p.m. O

14

2:00 p.m.

17         1:00 p.m.*

7:30 p.m. V

18

7:30 p.m. T

19

7:30 p.m.

20           4:00 p.m.     

               8:00 p.m.

21

Easter

24
1:00 p.m.*
25           

7:30 p.m. T

26

7:30 p.m.

27           4:00 p.m.

8:00 p.m.

28

2:00 p.m.

P = Preview; O = Opening; T = Talkback;

V = ViewPoints; *= Talk Theatre; PWYC = “Pay What You Choose” Night

 

[ SPECIAL EVENTS ]

 

Veterans Preview Night: During preview of BEN BUTLER (Friday, April 12), we’ll be hosting a special night for veterans and active military, with a special discount available to all members of the armed forces and their families. In addition to the performance, guest speaker Jim Marten, chair of the history department at Marquette University, will give a short talk. Details on discount pricing will be made available closer to the date of the event.

 

–Pre-performance ViewPoints: Join us for an insightful pre-show presentation featuring Robert S. Smith, the director of the Center for Urban Research, Teaching & Outreach at Marquette University, and Harry G. John, a professor in Marquette’s history department. With associate artistic director Marcella Kearns, they’ll discuss the roots and repercussions of slavery in the United States, along with the agency and participation of African-Americans in the Civil War. This free presentation and Q&A is on Wednesday, April 17 at 6:30 p.m. in the Skylight Bar & Bistro.

 

–Pre-performance Talk Theatre: MCT producing artistic director C. Michael Wright will lead two lively, informative chats during the run of BEN BUTLER. On Wednesday, April 17, our guest will be scenic designer Lisa Schlenker. Then, on Wednesday, April 24, our guest will be actor David Sapiro. Talk Theatre always begins at 12:00 noon in the Skylight Bar & Bistro.

 

–Post-performance Talkbacks: Post-show discussions with the artists will take place following performances on Thursday, April 18 and Thursday, April 25.

 

[ BIOGRAPHIES ]

 

DREW BRHEL – Major General Benjamin Butler

Drew Brhel is happy to be back with Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, where he was last seen as Saunders in LEND ME A TENOR. No stranger to Milwaukee audiences, Drew has appeared over the past 35 years with just about every theatre in town. Favorite roles include Porfiry in CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, Sterling in MAURITIUS, and Richard Greatham in HAY FEVER (MCT); Bobchinsky in THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR and Fezziwig/Mr. Topper in A CHRISTMAS CAROL (Milwaukee Repertory Theatre); Herr Biedermann in THE FIREBUGS and Emil in THREE VIEWINGS (Next Act Theatre); Herr Schultz in CABARET and Major-General Stanley in THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE (Skylight Music Theatre); and Matt in TALLEY’S FOLLY, Frank in EDUCATING RITA, Weller Martin in THE GIN GAME, Rothko in RED, and most recently Billy in BILLY BISHOP GOES TO WAR (Third Avenue Playhouse)—as well as roles with Windfall, In Tandem, Nevermore, and Cornerstone.

 

MARQUES CAUSEY – Shepard Mallory

Marques Causey is honored to return to the MCT stage. He was previously featured in productions of STRANGE SNOW (David), THE BROTHERS SIZE (Elegba) and PICNIC (Bomber). A native of Milwaukee, Marques received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. He has since worked with many theater companies in the area including Renaissance Theaterworks, Forward Theater, First Stage, In Tandem Theatre, Children’s Theater of Madison and Door Shakespeare.

 

DAVID SAPIRO – Major Cary

David is thrilled to be working with Milwaukee Chamber Theatre again, having most recently been seen with them as Porter Milgrim in DEATHTRAP in August of 2017. Other credits include Father William Callifer in Graham Greene’s THE POTTING SHED with Acacia Theatre; Roland in All In Production’s presentation of CONSTELLATIONS; Cliff in Renaissance Theaterworks’ production of LUNA GALE; and John in David Mamet’s A LIFE IN THE THEATRE at the Alchemist Theatre. He will next appear as Michael in Acacia Theatre’s production of THE ENDURANCE OF LIGHT this July.

 

CHASE STOEGER – Lieutenant Kelly

Chase is delighted to be working with Milwaukee Chamber Theater on BEN BUTLER. You might have seen him perform in past productions as Willy in FALLEN ANGELS, Binky in JEEVES TAKES A BOW, Bertie Wooster in JEEVES IN BLOOM, Will Hannah in MAIN-TRAVELLED ROADS, and himself in THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (ABRIDGED) [REVISED]. This past winter he was Bob in First Stage’s THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER: THE MUSICAL, and this summer and fall he will be going back to Northern Sky Theater in Door County for his 13th season.

 

MICHAEL COTEY – Director

Michael Cotey is a Chicago-based, Milwaukee-bred theatremaker. His previous directing credits at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre include DEATHTRAP, BOEING BOEING, THINGS BEING WHAT THEY ARE and the Young Playwrights Festival. Other directing credits: Illinois Shakespeare Festival (THE COMEDY OF ERRORS), Next Act Theatre (EQUIVOCATION), First Stage  (ELEPHANT’S GRAVEYARD; AS YOU LIKE IT), Northwestern University (THE GREAT GATSBY; EQUIVOCATION; FRANKENSTEIN), UW-Milwaukee (THE TEMPEST; CEMENTVILLE), Illinois Wesleyan University (DANCING AT LUGHNASA; TREASURE), and Youngblood Theatre (CARTOON; THE FLU SEASON; SPIRITS TO ENFORCE). From 2009-2013 he was the Founding Artistic Director of Youngblood Theatre in Milwaukee. Michael has also assisted prominent directors at the Goodman Theatre (Robert Fall), Oregon Shakespeare Festival (Mary Zimmerman), Utah Shakespeare (Joseph Hanreddy), Steppenwolf (Hallie Gordon), Milwaukee Rep (Sean Graney), Gift Theatre (Jessica Thebus) and Northwestern (Henry Godinez). Michael graduated from UW-Milwaukee with a BFA in Acting and from Northwestern University with an MFA in Directing. In 2014 he was named UWM’s “Graduate of the Last Decade.”

 

#####

 

MILWAUKEE CHAMBER THEATRE

Founded in 1975, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre (MCT) produces intimate and accessible theatrical works that engage and challenge the audience, while employing and nurturing principally local theatre artists. Under the leadership of Producing Artistic Director C. Michael Wright and Managing Director Kirsten Finn, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre performs at the Broadway Theatre Center in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward.

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