Alum talks ‘Melissa’s Choice’

By Caroline Cunfer, Books/Theater Editor

NYU alumnus Ari Butler stars in playwright Steven Somkin’s new play “Melissa’s Choice: An American Dilemma.” In the production, Butler plays Tad, a headstrong scientist who must confront his girlfriend’s unexpected pregnancy. “Melissa’s Choice” opens on May 7 at the Lion Theatre at 410 W. 42nd St.

WSN: What made you pick this topic and why do you think that a play is the place to start a discussion about abortion?

SS: The reason I chose to write about it is because I’m a playwright — there’s that. Population explosion is probably the single greatest driver of degradation of the environment. All the political and economic and social consequences influence things like global warming. That’s the general framework in which I’m operating.

WSN: How did you get involved in this play?

AB: I went to the audition and it was material that I connected with, which I think helped to have a good audition. As an actor, you go where opportunities are. The material was easy for me to grasp onto.

WSN: Do you relate to your character, Tad?

AB: I had a baby a few months ago so the idea of playing a guy who is fighting to have an abortion isn’t an immediate parallel to my life, for sure. When I said I had a baby, I mean, of course, that my wife had a baby. But the idea of a man being encouraged to step more quickly into that stage of his life than maybe he anticipated is something that I understand and certainly I imagine most men struggle with at one time or another. My character is deeply passionate about being out in the woods and alone time, and I share similar passions with being in this rehearsal room and on stage, both for which a kid presents extra challenges. I won’t pretend that I’m exactly like Tad, but there’s something about his struggle that I latched onto.

WSN: The show’s subtitle is “An American Dilemma.” Why is this uniquely American?

SS: In most countries in the world, either abortion is legal or it’s not legal. In the United States it’s legal, but there is tremendous pressure against abortion and against the freedom to choose an abortion, so that’s why it’s a uniquely American construct.

WSN: What do you hope people leave thinking about?

AB: The abortion conversation seems only public when it’s about rape victims or politicians in Republican states, and when it’s very heightened and dramatic. But the fact of the matter is people who want to have babies or don’t want to have babies are still having the abortion conversation because it’s in the air. So I think this play deals with the abortion question from more of the everyman point of view, instead of the more sensationalized conversations that you see on CNN or whatnot.

SS: What I would hope people would take away is the difficulty of the journey that this young woman is going through, and connect it to both men and women because it’s usually a couple’s decision. And also that it could go the other way. If anything, I want people to have a tolerance and an understanding of both the pro-choice and the pro-life decision.

A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, April 30 print edition. Email Caroline Cunfer at [email protected]