Spinning Into Butter is a searing, comic expose of political correctness at a small Vermont college. A crisis erupts when racist notes are posted on the dorm room door of one of the school's few African-American students. Sarah Daniels, the newly-hired dean of students, races to defuse the whirlwind of emotions spun up by students and faculty, but before the play reaches its surprise ending, she and the other whites on campus must first confront their own conflicted feelings about race.
The play's title, as some of you may have already figured out, refers to the folk tale of Little Black Sambo. In that story, a group of menacing tigers rob Sambo but wind up arguing with each other, chasing around a tree, spinning faster and faster until they turn into a yellow blur of butter, which Sambo pours on a stack of pancakes and eats!
Spinning Into Butter is an extraordinarily fresh, eloquent and candid new play," wrote the Chicago Tribune's critic Richard Christiansen. "In its sharp intelligence and dumbfounding honesty, it's unlike any play about our deep racial devisions that I've ever seen."
"The mystery of who wrote the notes is eventually solved, but the real story of the drama lies in Sarah herself," he adds. "She is a funny, frank and pragmatic person, unlike other fustian species of academia we meet at the school. She means well. She wants to be helpful to minority students. She arranges for a scholarship for one student, but in so doing, she gets it all wrong. All she can do is try to work her way through it. 'You don't become a better person overnight,' she admits, but in the end, in a saving gesture of humanity, she makes a start toward healing."
Christiansen concludes: "This is an important play by a writer of surprising gifts, not the least of which is her ability to amuse, teach and move her audience with the awful truth."
Originally from the small town of Trussville, Alabama (near Birmingham), playwright Rebecca Gilman had been living in Chicago for six years after finishing a graduate degree at the University of Iowa. Coincidentally, there was a real-life incident at the time at the University of Iowa involving racist e-mails received by some minority students there, but the central event of Spinning Into Butter actually derived from an episode at Middlebury College in Vermont in the early 1980s, when Gilman was a student there.
To direct LCT's production of Spinning Into Butter, we welcomed back Associate Director Daniel Sullivan, who in the same season was also working with the rotating casts of Ancestral Voices at the Newhouse, and staging that year's Pulitzer Prize winner, Dinner With Friends, as well as the acclaimed Broadway revival of A Moon For The Misbegotten.
Hope Davis played the play's central role of Sarah Daniels. You may remember Davis from her roles in LCT's productions of Ivanov opposite Kevin Kline or in Two Shakespearean Actors. Davis' many film credits include Next Stop Wonderland and The Daytrippers.
Spinning Into Butter featured designs by John Lee Beatty (sets), Jess Goldstein (costumes), and Brian MacDevitt (lighting).