Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

March 1, 2016


Majestic Theater, West Springfield
through April 3, 2016
by Shera Cohen

Don’t be confused – the Majestic’s play is “Butler,” not “The Butler” or about a butler. Changing the title would be the sole, significant suggestion to improve this masterfully written and produced slice of history conveyed through the artistic format of a play.

Set at the cusp of the Civil War, is a little known yet exceedingly important true story of three slaves’ escape to the Union’s Fort Monroe, Virginia. Paramount in “Butler” is the crisp, almost choreographed, dialog primarily between the slave Shepard Mallory and General Butler. The sometimes staccato rhythm of clever words bantering between the characters creates an unintended kinship – the two are much alike in their disparate circumstances. While important to the audience who wants to realize Mallory’s outcome, this portion of the plot is secondary to the rapport between this atypical prisoner (he wants to be caught) and brand new officer (figuring out his job, on the job).

Director Joseph Discher, a first-timer at the Majestic, should be asked to return. This is a man who, in essence, paints a picture, with close attention to each character’s nuance, both visually and vocally.

Discher isn’t the only newcomer to the Pioneer Valley stage. Both lead actors, Brian

Silliman (Butler) and John G. Williams (Mallory), are visitors who, like their director, are encouraged to come back. Silliman brings Butler to life with his first lines – brisk, loud, and formal. He is a big man who portrays arrogant and nervous, bombastic and gentle simultaneously. Silliman is more than up to the task. In contrast, Williams (Mallory) is slight, soft-spoken, brash, and witty. Silliman and Williams play astute and intelligent people who don’t want to like each other.

Lanky and lean, Tom Dahl (Lieutenant) looks the dichotomy of his boss, the General. Dahl, as the actor given the most humorous lines, throws his body stance and wide eyes into the role as a by-the-book soldier with a soft edge. In his short time onstage, David Sitler (a Confederate officer) quickly establishes himself as a foolish windbag.
Entering the theatre, the audience “walks into” Greg Trochlil’s single set, the General’s office of brick, stone, wood, arched windows, and gaslights.

Boasting a talented cast, astute direction, and period staging, “Butler” should not be missed.