Winnie Holzman’s comedy ‘Choice’ addresses abortion issue in unexpected way

choice review


Dakin Matthews and Ilana Levine in “Choice,” at The McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton.

Winnie Holzman’s comedy “Choice” was first produced in 2015. But the version currently being presented at The McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, with direction by McCarter’s artistic director Sarah Rasmussen, is an updated one, moving the action to 2020 and 2021. This allows for, among other things, a character to announce, at the end of the first scene, that Ruth Bader Ginsburg has just died.

As you might assume from its title, “Choice” is, to some extent, about abortion. So the change of time frame, and the mention of Ginsburg, adds a bit of urgency. It also allows for Holzman to make a wry joke, when one character predicts, in regard to Roe v. Wade, post-Ginsburg, “they’ll keep chipping away at it without actually overturning it. You can’t just suddenly overturn a law that’s been settled almost 50 years.” (Roe v. Wade was overturned, of course, in 2022).


Caitlin Kinnunen in “Choice.”

It’s a clever line. But you would expect nothing less from Holzman, whose credits include writing the book for the musical “Wicked” and the screenplays for the upcoming films “Wicked” and “Wicked: Part Two”; writing or co-writing episodes of television’s “Thirtysomething”; and creating the TV series “My So-Called Life.”

But Holzman is going for more than just laughs here. She says, in an interview included in the play’s program, that “Choice” was inspired by John Patrick Shanley’s “Doubt” — that she wanted to write a play that, like “Doubt,” “leaves people wanting to have a conversation,” and that she wanted her play to be something “that explored abortion and a woman’s right to choose, but in a non-polemical, unexpected, compassionate way.”

She got the “unexpected” part right: “Choice” has touches of the magical and the far-fetched. And yes, she doesn’t bring her story to a neat, obvious conclusion. But I don’t think the characters are compelling enough — or the story Holzman creates for them is gripping enough — for “Choice” to generate much post-show discussion.

The unfortunately named Zipporah “Zippy” Zunder, played by Ilana Levine, is the central character: A journalist who is working on a Vanity Fair feature about a famous movie producer who believes in the CLAF theory. According to CLAF — standing for “children lost and found,” and made up by Holzman for this play — the souls of aborted fetuses can be found in those born around the same time that the abortion took place. In other words, someone may be walking around right now, with your aborted fetus’ soul, and it is possible, in some cases, to actually find that person.


Kate A. Mulligan, in “Choice.”

It’s a crazy theory, but Zippy comes to believe it could be possible, and even wonders if the mysterious assistant who has come into her life, Hunter (Jake Cannavale), could have the soul of her own aborted fetus.

This worries Zippy’s close friend, journalism professor Erica (Kate A. Mulligan), who believes that an article that is too positive about CLAF could be “dangerous,” hurting the pro-choice movement. “You have one job: to mercilessly skewer the CLAF people,” Erica tells her.

Zippy’s refusal to skewer causes a major rift in their friendship. But she remains resolutely pro-choice. “That abortion was the birth of my life as I know it,” she says, in the play’s most resonant scene. “I did choose life. I chose my life.”

Dakin Matthews plays Clark, Zippy’s significantly older husband. He is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who occasionally dispenses words of wisdom. “Mistakes are the portals of discovery,” he intones, quoting James Joyce. But because his hearing is bad, he often mishears words in humorous ways. (Holzman relies on this tactic to generate comic relief too many times.)

Caitlin Kinnunen plays Zippy and Clark’s neurotic, sharp-tongued, recent-college-grad daughter Zoe, who has non-abortion-related choices of her own to make, regarding her own life. Kinnunen also plays the Russian-accented, Carl Jung-quoting bikini waxer who the movie producer believes bears her aborted fetus’ soul (bizarrely, Zippy interviews her while getting a bikini wax) and an abortion center worker who appears in the flashback scene that shows Zippy going to get her abortion, decades earlier.


Barzin Akhavan and Ilana Levine in “Choice.”

Rounding out the cast is Barzin Akhavan as Erica’s new, nice but somewhat annoying boyfriend Mark. Akhavan also plays Zippy’s ex-boyfriend (from the time when she got the abortion), also named Mark, whom Zippy arranges to meet as more research for her article. (Why such a meeting is necessary for the article is never convincingly explained.) The latter Mark has suffered a stroke, and has trouble communicating; as with Clark’s hearing issues, I think Holzman uses this to generate humor a little too often.

Still, overall, Holzman’s dialogue is, no pun intended, zippy, with lots of wisecracks, even when people are talking about ultra-serious subjects. When Zoe, for instance, is condescendingly told, “I hope your generation is aware of the danger we’re facing,” she snaps back, “Everyone: Please do not say the words ‘your generation’ for the rest of your lives.” And then there is this exchange, when Clark lets Zippy know he knows that she hides chocolate bars in her underwear drawer.

Zippy: Those are power bars.
Clark: Are they or are they not covered in chocolate?
Zippy: It’s power chocolate!

Certainly, there are some laughs here, and “Choice” does evoke the complex and sometimes conflicting emotions that surround the issue of abortion, for many people. And scenic designer Andrew Boyce does a stellar job, creating a handsome multi-level set that rotates for scenes in different rooms in Zippy and Clark’s house, and other locations (see video below). But the story at the core of “Choice” is just not strong enough for it to live up to Holzman’s past triumphs.

The McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton will present “Choice” at its Berlind Theater through June 2. Visit


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