Butler is currently playing the title role in "Motke Thief," Sholem Asch's 1917 play about a thief who assumes a murdered man's identity, then falls in love with a café owner's daughter and tries to walk the straight line.
The work was recently adapted from the original Yiddish by Caraid O'Brien, who also appears in the cast. This is the first time the play has ever been performed in English.
The main character, Motke, is a thief and "pimp for the pimps" in Poland around the turn of the century. At one point, to save his life, he murders an innocent man in order to assume the man's identity.
"Motke eventually decides to become a decent, normal person," Butler said.
But will love lead him to redemption, or will his past sins be his eventual downfall?
Up and coming
For years, Butler has directed plays at both Hoboken High School and the Hudson School in Hoboken. Most recently, he directed a play that was presented at the Park Theater in Union City titled "Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie?" written by Don Petersen.
He has also appeared in a Chuck E. Cheese commercial, a Spike TV Public Service Announcement requesting assistance for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, a Cingular Wireless ad, and as Colin Powell in "Crude" a silent comedy short written and directed by Gustavius Smith, which was recently submitted to the Sundance Film Festival.
His other notable roles include being chased down and butchered in an indie horror film called "Frankenthug," and well as appearances on Law & Order, MTV's Sweet 16 parody, the Today Show for USA's Kojak series promotion, and as a voiceover for the 2006 Lincoln Navigator.
Butler said that playing Motke has been one of the most challenging roles of his career.
"His gangsterism is timeless," he said. "Survival of the fittest and all of that, but what makes [this role] so interesting is that this is someone the wants to leave that life behind to become human."
A cop and an actor?
Butler said that he was an actor well before he ever thought about being a cop.
"I started acting when I was five," Butler said.
Three years ago, his cousin, a policeman, suggested he join the force. He's been on the job ever since. But being a full-time cop and a featured actor can be quite the balancing act. It's not uncommon for Butler to give a performance, then have to work the midnight shift that very same night. The next afternoon, he might head to rehearsals.
"I've become very efficient at multi-tasking," Butler said. "But this is what I love doing, so it's well worth it." Does Butler get any razzing from his fellow officers on the force?
"They gave me a little trouble at first, but they started to take notice when they found out I was starting to get some high profile commercials and voiceover work," he said. "Now they're nothing but supportive." "Motke Thief" is playing through Dec. 17 at the University Settlement Theater, 184 Eldridge St., on Manhattan's Lower East Side. Performances are Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m. and Saturdays at 2 at 8 p.m., $15. Call (212) 868-4444 or visit www.motkethief.com.