Tucked away on 131 Elm Street in West Springfield, Mass. is the Majestic Theater. It has attracted theater goers of all ages since 1997 when the Marquee was renovated. It is a marvelous blend of theater, food, and oddities. You enter: on the right is an attractive seating area leading to a small cafe and to the left are odds and ends made by local artists set out for sale. The main stage era recalls an earlier time with its tin ceiling and comfortable balcony seats.
My mother and I, who are ones for tradition, visit the theater whenever I am in town. Wednesday night, on the tail-end of its run on the stage, we picked up two tickets to see Butler. Our seats were tucked away in the corner of the balcony–nosebleed seats, but we sat next to a lovely older man named Don and a high school student named Padraig (gaelic for Patrick).
I had zero expectations coming in, our appearance at this show so last minute, but that is what made my enjoyment of the play so much better. The play Butler was written by Richard Strand and directed by Joseph Discher and portrays the true story of General Butler during the Civil War. Butler is faced with tough choices when escaped slave Shepard Mallory seeks asylum.
The director’s note states, “In a small military office, two men match wits. They challenge each other in a heated debate. A third man is drawn into the conflict. Slowly but surely, each man begins to see things differently than they have before. It is a difficult process, and yet it is key to all understanding, compassion, acceptance, forgiveness, and redemption; the ability to see things from another person’s point of view. How much violence and intolerance would cease, whether against people of different races, religions, or sexual orientation, if we could truly, as the escaped slave Shepard Mallory says, “see things differently”?”
Perception is an a important concept I wrote about in yesterday’s post The Art of Perception: Rethinking How We See on Amy E. Herman’s lecture at the University of Massachusetts.
Aside from the important themes the play toys with, the back and forth dialogue between our protagonists was incredible. The script manipulates language like a skilled comedian. The jokes circle back to each other without becoming dry. General Butler, played by Brian Silliman, orated his lines with a deadpan delivery that left Don and I in stitches.
I recommend those in the area to see Butler before time runs out April 3. Although set in the Civil War, the themes and overarching message are presented with a humor and accessibility which lends itself to application to today’s issues.
It is simply astonishing.
For more information on the Majestic Theater and a list of programs, visit http://www.majestictheater.com/index.html.
On a funny note: During intermission my mother and I offered to buy Don a drink. He politely declined and my mother and I retired to the cafe area. We were hoping to catch Don again to offer something again from the cafe or make conversation, but couldn’t find him. When returned to our seat it turns out he had been looking for us during intermission as well to offer us a drink. Although we gave each other a bit of a run-around, it just goes to show what kind of friends you’ll make when you visit your local theater.