Meet the director of Bad Jews: Oliver Butler

Oliver Butler, director of Bad Jews
Oliver Butler, director of Bad Jews

When Oliver Butler was a boy, he spent many a happy hour hanging around Long Wharf Theatre. His mother, Pamela Payton-Wright, is a much celebrated actress who performed in many shows at the theatre, including a much lauded 1987 production of Our Town with Hal Holbrook. “My mother is all over the walls,” Butler said, referring to the production photos found all around the rehearsal halls and green room.

He recalled doing homework in the dressing room during the show, and making off-stage crowd noises during a production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. “My memories are all good ones and I’m sure I’ve forgotten the embarrassing ones,” he said. Right out of the University of Connecticut, Butler picked up a little extra cash helping to do technical work at the theatre. Long Wharf Theatre has been part of his life for a long time.

Peter Weller, Christine Lahti and Pamela Payton Wright in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
Peter Weller, Christine Lahti and Pamela Payton-Wright in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

Coming back to direct a show was not something he’d ever expected to do. Artistic Director Gordon Edelstein was impressed with the work Butler had done with his own Brooklyn-based company, The Debate Society, and hired him to direct Joshua Harmon’s Bad Jews. “It’s hard for me to put together that this guy is the young kid I knew,” Artistic Director Gordon Edelstein said of the 36-year-old director.

Butler wasn’t initially sure he wanted to go into the theatre to make a living. “It was much too hard. There must be something else I could do,” he said.

But, as he said, the family business beckoned. “It is fitting that this play about family legacy came to me,” Butler said.

Butler said that Bad Jews is ultimately about a group of 20-somethings who are trying to figure out their places in the world and the kind of lives they’d like to have. The chai, the necklace at the center of the characters’ struggle in the play, is a token physical object that represents the thing of real value: the family’s legacy, he said.

Butler said audiences will get to see a lively, interesting battle on stage, and the comedy of the piece will certainly come through, but it’s the family dynamic that gives the piece its heart.

— Steven Scarpa

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