Talk of the Times: Based on a true story

"Ben Butler," a play by Richard Strand, will run at Gloucester Stage through Aug. 25. The play is described as a battle of wits between two "equally formidable men" -- one enslaved and another a general (a former Gloucester resident) -- during the Civil War.  The general, played by Ames Adamson, is pictured here with his lieutenant, played by Doug Bowen-Flynn. Courtesy photo 

The Gloucester Stage Company production of "Ben Butler," about a Civil War general who once lived in Gloucester, is getting high marks from audiences. The story centers on the general and an enslaved man who seeks sanctuary in a Union fort in Virginia, shortly after that state joined the Confederacy. 

Several people in the audience wondered if it was based on a true story. It is.

Playwright Richard Strand, a professor of dramatic arts at Mt. San Antonio College in California, said there are historical records of the meeting between the general and the enslaved man. The two men were in many ways mirror images -- except for the color of their skin and their ability to live as a free man.

Butler himself wrote an in-depth biography that carries details of this event.  

In an interview earlier this week, Strand said he read about Butler and the incident at Fort Monroe while reading a biography of Abraham Lincoln, and was so enthralled that he set out to learn much more about it. 

Butler, a seasoned litigator and resourceful man, did something then unthinkable, using creative and convoluted legal reasoning that was later upheld by the government.

Butler moved to Gloucester in order to establish residency to run for certain offices. He first set up a tent on the property that is now known as the Ames estate, and was later a settler of the Bayview neighborhood. He also was a presidential candidate, and the 33rd governor of Massachusetts. He is only one of two state governors who did not receive an honorary doctorate from Harvard University, according to a Butler scholar. 

While much was known through historical records about Butler, there was almost nothing about the enslaved man, so Strand said he had to make up the details of that character for the play.

"What's gratifying about this play is that it has encouraged some people to find out more about the incident and ask questions," Strand said.

In fact, many theater-goers wanted to find out more when they realized it was indeed a real story about real men during the Civil War.

The two main actors had played these roles before in other productions, but this was the first time Ames Adamson, as the general, and Shane Taylor, as the enslaved man, shared the stage.

Adamson described the play in an apt way when he said in the first half, it's like Easter eggs being planted, "and then you start finding them in the second half."

Descendants of Gloucester schooners 

Schooner Adventure has had a great response for its free Descendants Sails. Three were scheduled this year. One was held in July. The second, scheduled for Sunday, is sold out; the final excursion is set for Sept. 8. These sails are available free of charge for not just the descendants of Adventure's captains and crew, but for the family members of the men who served aboard all of the vessels in Gloucester's schooner fishing fleet.

"They are an important part of Adventure's work to preserve fisheries heritage, and central to our efforts to serve the whole community," according to a release.

Those interested are asked to send an email to: info@schooner-adventure.org to be signed up.

"In the interest of being able to share the experience with as many as possible, we ask that you limit the size of your party to eight, but if there are more family members that you would like to bring along, please let us know and we'll do our best to accommodate. All we ask is that you bring your stories and share them with our crew and docents," according to the release. 

Sponsorships also are still available to help to underwrite the cost of this initiative. 

Free outdoor music

There are still a few weeks left in three popular concert series, staring with Harbor Loop on Thursday evenings from 6 to 9 p.m.  The final two concerts are Aug. 22 with Chris Fritz-Grace of Pier Ave and Mamadou Diop; and Aug. 29 with Isle and Old Cold Tater.

The Music on Meeting House Green series on Fridays, also from 6 to 9 p.m., continues on Friday, Aug 23, featuring Cape Ann's own Deb Hardy and her band in a concert to benefit Gloucester Education Foundation. The band performs jazzy acoustic rock with a mix of originals and covers. The final concert of the 2019 series is Sept. 6 with Alvin Foster and his band Soul Eclectic in a concert to benefit Gloucester Meetinghouse Foundation.

And on Sundays at the Stage Fort Park bandstand, there are two more concerts. The Cape Ann Community Band Celtic Concert is this Sunday, Aug. 18, at 7 p.m. and features special guests the North Shore Pipe Band. On Aug. 25, the featured act is the Cape Ann Big Band performing jazz and more. Parking is free and the venue and restrooms are wheelchair-accessible. For further information, visit DavidLBenjamin.com.

Speaking of music, Gloucester guitarist Bob Davis, of Johnny Carwash, is excited about a Thursday night gig at The Rhumb Line in a Night of Guitars at Dave Sag's weekly Blues Party. This week features a rare opportunity to have Bobby Keyes perform on Cape Ann, he said. The event is Aug 22, at 8:30 p.m.  Also performing will be Davis, Dave Mattacks on drums, Dave Sag and Josh Davis as a guest vocalist.

"This show will be the high point of my summer for sure," Davis said.

Art on the Rocks

The Society for the Encouragement of the Arts (seARTS) announced a new feature in one of its signature programs, Art on the Rocks, which now offers an online catalog of juried art works available for sale. For those unable to attend this summer's opening reception, organizers found another way to make the artworks available for viewing, featuring works by new and returning artists, by going to: bit.ly/artcatalog.

Works featured include landscapes, seascapes, nocturnes and still life in a variety of media, including watercolor, oils, pastels, digital drawing and photography. Participating artists include: Andrew Anderson-Bell, Joan Bediz, Ted Bidwell, Matt Cegelis, Michele Champion, Kathleen Chrzanowski, Katherine Coakley, Melissa Cox, Jeff Crawford, Rob Diebboll, Kristine Fisher, Anita Freeman, Larry Grob, Marion Hall, Olga Hayes, Clare Higgins, Kirk Larsen, Nancy LeGendre, Patricia McCarthy, Jim Murphy, Karen Nastuk, Mary Rose O'Connell, Michael Oleksiw, David Piemonte, Mary Rhinelander, Judy Robinson-Cox, Deb Schradieck, Debbie Shirley and Marny Williams

All works are for sale at Bass Rocks Golf Club in Gloucester, through June 2020. To see any work in person and discuss a purchase, call club manager Peter Hood for an appointment at 978-283-1866, ext. 7.

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