Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

Florida Studio Theatre
Review by William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Shane Taylor and Eric Hoffmann
Photo by Matthew Hollar, Courtesy of Florida Studio Theatre
Continuing their commitment to new work, Florida Studio Theatre presents the area premiere of Richard Strand's Butler, which had its world premiere at New Jersey Repertory Company in June, 2014, and is slowly making its way around the regional theater circuit. Butler is an interesting play, imagining what might have occurred behind closed doors when runaway slaves requested sanctuary from Union forts located below the Mason-Dixon line. Lawyer turned General, Benjamin Butler attempts to find a way around President Lincoln's orders that the Union Army respect the property rights of Southern slave owners when Shepard Mallory requests asylum for himself and two friends. Mallory, it turns out, has a nimble mind, constantly challenging General Butler. The tone of the play is humorous and thoughtful, challenging the audience to think about the rights and wrongs of the situation, but from a historically later and somewhat liberal point of view.

The two adversaries, General Butler, portrayed by Eric Hoffmann, and Shepard Mallory, portrayed by Shane Taylor, square off against each other in several exasperating confrontations. The writing in these scenes is particularly strong. There is someone in my own life who can cause me this same angst as we seem not to be able to truly understand each other's point of view. Butler is all bluster, used to controlling the courtroom, while Mallory has to be decidedly nimble of mind, careful to stay clear of offense to the white man. Both actors give strong performances. Joe Ditmyer plays Lieutenant Kelly, the General's aide-de-camp, a graduate of West Point who finds himself serving below his capabilities. His eyes going back and forth from Mallory to Butler is a lesson in fine reacting, focusing the attention on where the interesting thoughts are occurring. Jim Sorensen, Associate Managing Director in his FST stage debut (he has performed very capably on many other area stages), plays Major Cary.

Jason Cannon, an Associate Artist at FST, directs capably, keeping the pace lively. Moriah and Isabel Curley-Clay have provided a richly detailed setting for the action, Donna Riggs has coordinated the costumes, and Richard T. Chamblin III has designed the lighting. Whoever is responsible for Mr. Hoffman's hair styling (or is it a wig, it was really hard to tell) deserves a round of kudos.

Butler is representative of Florida Studio Theatre's finest work, a well chosen play, thought provoking, yet entertaining in a fine production.

Florida Studio Theatre presents Butler through February 26, 2016, at the Keating Theater 1241 N. Palm Avenue, Sarasota. For tickets and performance information, please call the box office at (941) 366-9000 or visit

Cast (In order of appearance):
General Benjamin Butler: Eric Hoffmann*
Lieutenant Kelly: Joe Ditmyer*
Shepard Mallory: Shane Taylor*
Major Cary: Jim Sorensen*
*=Member of Actor's Equity Association

Directed by Jason Cannon
Scenic Designers: Moriah & Isabel Curley-Clay
Costume Coordinator: Donn Riggs
Lighting Designer: Richard T. Chamblin III
Dialect Coach: Eric Zivot
Stage Manager: Rebekah Small*