Dan Butler, Back to Trinity, In Psychological Thriller
Television viewers likely know Dan Butler for his nine-year run as a regular on the hit series "Frazier," where he played the macho-sportscaster Bob "Bulldog" Briscoe.
But prior to that the out actor was a member of Providence’s Trinity Repertoy Company from 1978-1984.
This month he returns to the company after a 28-year hiatus to appear in an adventurous, three-charater adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s classic psychological novel Crime and Punishment, directed by Brian Mertes. The play runs through February 24.
According to the company’s website, co-adaptors Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus (Trinity’s Artistic Director) "have spun Dostoyevsky’s complex story into a 90-minute, three actor tour-de-force with a modern, poetic flair. Moving seamlessly between past and present, the play’s tension - will a man get away with murder? Should he? - builds to an explosive climax."
In the production, Butler plays a number of roles, most prominently the police detective Porfiry Petrovich, who is both friend and adversary to Raskolnikov, the student that murders an aging pawnbroker, then suffers guilt from his actions. Butler is joined by Trinity Rep resident company member Stephen Thorne the prostitute Sonia, who offers solace to the tortured Raskolnikov. Ms. Christopher was Alma in "Yellowman" and 2011 graduate of the Brown/Trinity Rep MFA Acting program.
The production opened last week to any number of great reviews. In the Providence Journal, critic Channing Gray called it "stunning... a dreamy, stream-of-consciousness take on Dostoyevsky’s beloved masterpiece."
EDGE’s critic Christopher Verleger wrote "the combined talents of Artistic Director Curt Columbus and Marilyn Campbell, who together adapted the classic behemoth of Russian literature into a 90-minute psychological drama, with director Brian Mertes’ unconventional yet purposeful vision and Eugene Lee’s cluttered, elaborate set design, as well as three unforgettable performances, make for a compelling docudrama-like event that presents memory sequences of eyewitness testimony and reenactments of transpired events in a performance artist’s setting, heavily influenced by audio and visual media."
He also praised Butler’s "triumphant return to the Trinity stage after more than two decades, as Porfiry, the steadfast inspector determined to eke a confession out of the guilt-wracked Raskolnikov."
Butler knew the story from reading the book and wanted to be a part of the production.
"The character really grabbed me and made the journey of the book much more compelling," Butler explained. "(Porfiry) was genuinely fascinating to me - all the topics he brought up. I thought it would be a fun challenge and a great way to return to Trinity after 28 years."
He also signed on to work with director Brian Mertes, the head of the Brown/Trinity MFA Directing Program and an acclaimed director who has worked in theaters throughout the country.
"I thought it would be a bit of a wild ride because he approaches things very differently than any director I’ve ever worked with," Butler said
The 58-year old actor grew up in Indiana and developed a love of performing at a young age. Butler made his debut in a regional theatre production of "The Music Man." After being cast in "Frazier," he made headlines for his coming out one-person show, "The Only Thing Worse You Could Have Told Me...", which ran off-Broadway in 1995 before touring the West Coast.
The title of the show refers to a the response that Butler received from his father when he told he was gay, which was completed with "...that you were dead."
In his show Butler played 10 characters that reflected the fabric of Gay America during the Clinton years.
It was in stark contrast to his role on "Frazier," a boorish, un-PC sportscaster known for his self-absorption and womanizing.
While Butler’s first love is the theater, he was surprised to find his work on the long-running series a close second.
"A lot of the directors, especially Jimmy Burrows, whose background was in the theater, wanted to keep it as fresh for the audience as possible so we were feeding off their reactions. The great thing about theater is you’re present with the audience at that moment."
"I enjoy the give and take with the audience," Butler continued. "I enjoy taking risks and making a fool of myself in rehearsal. I don’t think there’s any accident that certain roles come into your life at a certain time. So there’s the question ’what can I learn from taking on this character, what can I learn from saying these lines?’ Also the challenge of how to keep it alive during a run. All that excites me."
As for the project that brings him back to Providence, Butler hopes it will stimulate audiences in an intellectual way.
"I want something that sticks with you, and makes you feel a little more alive or disturbed or gets under your skin and makes you think a different way," Butler added.
Regular and discounted tickets for Crime and Punishment are on sale now at the Trinity Rep box office, 201 Washington St.; by phone at (401) 351-4242; and online at www.trinityrep.com. This production is sponsored by Taco/The White Family Foundation.