Review of "Ben Butler" at BAT

There are many stories that have come out of the civil war. Some detail the struggles the union and confederate soldiers endured, while others are about the oppression the slaves suffered through. Few, however, illustrate the strained relationship of union soldiers and the slaves which they fought for.

Ben Butler is a very unique civil war story that is so incredible, it’s hard to believe it is based on a true story. It takes place a few weeks after the start of the American civil war, shortly after the state of Virginia seceded from the Union.

The story begins with Major General Benjamin Franklin Butler (played by Michael Mendonsa) is the officer in charge of Fort Monroe in Virginia, who becomes host to three runaway slaves. Lieutenant Kelly (played by Mark Fox) informs Butler that one of the slaves, an exceptionally troublesome one as Kelly puts it, is demanding to speak with the commander in charge of the fort. Butler, being a well educated and shrewd man proclaims that he is “ASTONISHED” by the demand. But however “astonished” Butler might be, he is also intrigued by the slave who is making such demands, and agrees to see him.

At first the slave, named Shepard Mallory (played by Sharif Ali), doesn’t seem like the type to make demands, although Lieutenant Kelly warns the Major General to keep an eye on him. It isn’t until they are alone that Mallory comes to life, biting back at the General with quick wit, sarcasm and a certain familiarity.

The story unfolds through their dialog, and the relationship that is built between the two is bonded by their clashing personalities. While it is clear that Shepard’s presence is unwanted at the Fort, there is the sense that Butler truly cares for his uninvited houseguest.

The problem Butler faces is a test of morality. Does he help the man that wishes to have a life away from southern slavery or does his background as a lawyer and his duty to uphold the law supercede his obligation to aid someone commonly viewed as property?

This is only the beginning of a story that had far reaching effects on the civil war and how the North solved the issue of runaway slaves from the secessionist South.

The setting takes place in General Butler’s office (set by Albie Clementi) as the story progresses through dialog (written by Richard Strand), which is clever and dramatic with comedic breaks weaved throughout. All the props on stage accurately reflect the time period (props by Cyndi Baumgardner) while the lighting illuminates the stage perfectly (lighting by Zanna King).

The costumes help bring the characters to life and make them more believable (costumes by Maggie Larrick). The sound is excellent and everything can be heard with crystal clarity as well as helps narrate action that isn’t shown on stage (sound by Eric Dickman).

I highly recommend seeing this story about two men from completely different walks of life, who find a similarity between each other in a world where neither has to consider the other. The acting is superb.

This show kicks off the Burien Actors Theatre’s 38th season. Ben Butler runs from September 29th til October 22nd, with showtimes beginning at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and beginning at 2 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets can be ordered online at with prices at $10 for students, $17 for seniors, and $20 for everyone else in between. The Burien Actors Theatre is located at 14501 4th Ave. SW., Burien, WA. 98148.

Ben Butler Review
By John Van de Ven
October 2, 2017

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