North Coast Rep lands on History-Changing Civil War General


Around 2015, the artistic director of the North Coast Repertory Theater, David Ellenstein, got his hands on the script for Richard Strand’s play “Ben Butler”.

Three pages later, Ellenstein was hooked. But it would take him another six years to secure the rights to produce the play, which premieres Wednesday, October 20, when it premieres in Southern California at the Solana Beach Theater.

Set in 1861 at Fort Monroe, Va., In the early months of the Civil War, the play tells the controversial story of Union Army General Benjamin Butler faced with a moral dilemma when a slave in flight arrives at the fort in search of a sanctuary. Butler must decide whether to return the slave to his master or essentially free the man by declaring him “contraband of war.” Butler’s decision would change the course of the war and ultimately lead to President Lincoln issuing the Emancipation Proclamation.

Richard Baird, seated, Brian Mackey and Bruce Turk rehearse a scene from “Ben Butler” at the North Coast Repertory Theater.

(Aaron Rumley)

Ellenstein, who directs “Ben Butler,” said what he liked most about the play was the way it told a human story that was both deep and funny.

“It’s not just the big issues of civil war and slavery. It’s about what it’s like to be a human being, ”he said. “It examines historical figure Benjamin Butler who was a very controversial person who did some incredibly good and truly horrible things in his life.”

“It’s also extremely funny,” continued Ellenstein. “It makes you laugh when you watch these really smart people debate and negotiate with each other about these history changing events. He walks so well on this tightrope. Strand really made a play that was entertaining, powerful and important.

Ellenstein applied for the rights to the series every year for five unsuccessful years until he finally wrote a letter to the playwright and Strand agreed to direct the production. From the start, Ellenstein said he always had only one actor in mind to play the colorful, larger-than-life role of Butler: Richard Baird, an actor from San Diego who will make his 33rd stage appearance. in North Coast Rep since her first show there 22 years ago.

Including Butler, three of the play’s four characters were real people. One is Shepard Mallory, a field man who was one of three slaves who sought refuge at Fort Monroe in 1861, and Confederate Army Major John B. Cary, who came to the fort to retrieve Mallory. and the other men. The fourth character, Butler’s adjutant, Lieutenant Kelly, is fictional.

Actor Bruce Turk will play Major Cary and Brian Mackey will play Lieutenant Kelly. Ellenstein conducted a nationwide search to choose the role of Mallory. He chose Brandon J. Pierce, an actor from Philadelphia who sent in a recorded audition.

“Brandon brought just the right mix of seriousness, humor and intellect,” said Ellenstein. “He’s a lovely man and a great actor and this is his first trip to California.”

The play arrives in North Coast on the heels of the Black Lives Matter movement, but that’s only because Ellenstein has spent so many years trying to get the rights. He said his message on black civil rights is timeless.

“This is not a new problem,” he said. “This is a problem that America has faced for many years. The 1960s were all about civil rights and we thought we had been there, but we still have a long way to go.

“Ben Butler”

When: Opens Wednesday October 20 and runs until November 14. The sessions are at 8 pm from Thursday to Saturday; 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays; 7 p.m. Sundays and Wednesdays.

Or: North Coast Repertory Theater, 987D Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach.

COVID Policy: Proof of complete vaccination or a negative COVID-19 PCR test result within 72 hours of the required run date. Masks are mandatory inside.

Tickets: $ 54- $ 60

Telephone: (858) 481-1055

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