Stage veteran E. Faye Butler simply cannot wait for the masses to see the Muny’s production of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” which opened yesterday (July 5) and continues through July 13.
“It’s old theatre at its finest,” Butler said. “It’s slapstick – and saying things that people don’t say anymore on the stage. It’s just fun and quick comedy.”
Butler delighted in just thinking about the play. Her voice beamed as she shared the synopsis.
“All of these funny things happen on the way to the forum,” Butler said. “This is a neighborhood. This is a troupe of actors. We introduce the audience to this troupe of actors who tell you about this story that they are making up.”
Butler plays Domina, the clever wife of Senex that everyone loves to hate.
“She is kind of exactly what her name is – she is a domineering, strong wife and she runs her household,” Butler said. “Her husband in many ways is a henpecked husband. He’s the head of the house, but she actually runs it.”
The ensemble production directed by Gary Griffin also features John Tartaglia Ali Ewoldt, Mark Linn-Baker, Marrick Smith, Nathaniel Hackmann, Whit Reichert, Marcus Choi, Justin Keyes and Tommy Scrivens.
“The cast is absolutely amazing – and you have to put a group of what I call theater clowns together to pull this piece off,” Butler said. “There is nothing demure about this show. You’ve got to be able to put it out there on the line. It’s big and it’s broad and it’s what theater is.”
Butler’s introduction to theater came as a small child. Her parents made patronage of the arts a family affair. Every weekend they did something – whether it was film or visiting an art gallery.
Theater stuck with her as the favorite thing they did as a family.
“Art – no matter what the form of art it is – it helps you grow as an individual. It gives you a wider stance on what the world is around you,” Butler said. “It gave me a voice. It made me a very independent-thinking person.”
It was a play called “The Red Shoe” that ordered her steps to the path of theatre.
Her elementary school teacher cast her in the play as an incentive to get Butler to be quiet in class. Ironically, the talkative youngster was assigned the role of a deaf-mute. Being able to convey emotions without words and still connect with the audience was a transformative experience for her.
“That was the first time I knew in my heart that I wanted to be in show business – and I haven’t stopped since then,” said Butler.
She has enjoyed an incredible career in the forty-plus years since.
“I love the reaction of people in the moment. It’s a live medium that I love,” Butler said. “With all of the electronics, and the social media, and the televisions, and the movies and the special effects and so on, it’s great to go to the theater and create a moment. You can never fully repeat a performance. It’s never the same audience. Although you have the same script in your hand, every performance is different.”
The Chicago native’s original intention was to do drama.
She is a classically trained actress, but she wasn’t getting work doing straight plays because there weren’t a lot of roles for African-Americans – especially African-American women.
“The pickings were very slim, but I had an agent tell me, ‘If you could sing, you could have another avenue,” Butler said.
She could. And she did. The work has been steady to say the least.
“I didn’t get into the business to do musical theatre, but it has become my bread and butter,” Butler said. “It literally feeds me.”
She says she has been blessed to have never experienced a downturn – and works now more than ever.
Butler believes the secret to her success has been a full and well-rounded life.
“Have a life outside of the stage,” Butler said. “There is nothing better to bring to the table than life experiences. It makes me a better performer and a better storyteller.”
The Muny’s production of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” continues through July 13. For more information, visit www.muny.org or call (314) 961-1900.