Reviewed by Gregor Collins
The first few minutes of The Bigot felt trite, preachy, and patronizing—not a play I planned on recommending. But just like Jim The Bigot, over the course of the evening, I grew. A story I initially considered rather bland, started to take on meaning and importance.
Welcome to my affair with The Bigot, a new play at Theater at St. Clements, written by Gabi Mor and Eva Mor, and directed by Michael Susko.
Being a writer, I had self-serving issues with the script, but ultimately this play is too valuable to harp on anything other than why you should see it: For the message, and for Stephen Payne’s turn as Jim the Bigot.
The seasoned Broadway and film actor brings pathos to a character most self-respecting people write off as dregs of society. But like Forrest Whitaker in the movie The Last King of Scotland, Payne brings humanity and humor to an otherwise abhorrent human, and the guilt we feel about finding ourselves engaged with someone like this ends up doing for us exactly what the playwrights wanted to have done: Have us leaving the theater with a heart a little more open to the world.
And lord knows New Yorkers need more of that.
The Bigot tells the story of Jim (Stephen Payne), the “racist, chauvinist, homophobe and anti-Semite next door,” who spends all day every day in his ratty bathrobe watching Fox News at the highest possible volume and complaining about the “Dykes” next door. His life takes a turn when he finds he has a life-threatening health crisis. Because most of the people in Jim’s life have either died or abandoned him, his son Seth (Dana Watkins), who visits him daily to clean up his apartment and turn down the Fox News volume, is Jim’s last hope. It all comes to a head when Seth—and the “Dykes” (Jaimi Paige and Faiven Feshazion)—make a collective decision that changes everyone’s lives.
The seed of the play was birthed from the real-life of playwrights Gabi and Eva Mor, who both experienced discrimination and anti-Semitic slurs growing up. But, as Gabi says, “we never lost hope.” Which is why they wrote a play about hope.
The Bigot is blatantly “left-leaning”, which in parts is cringe-worthy not because I’m not a “liberal”—I’m an independent, if that’s even relevant—but because some of the dialogue (obviously dialogue from everyone except Jim) feels more like sappy liberal propaganda than anything else. But what ultimately mattered to me was that over the course of the evening we were treated to a genuine-feeling transformation of a man stuck on “repeat”, to a contributing member of society, delivered by a gifted actor with the raspy authenticity of the late Jack Palance and the instinct to let moments that needed to, breathe and be beautiful. Payne, without even trying to, gets us feeling more in touch with our inherent goodness. And let’s be honest: We need the Jims of this world to wake up… so that we can wake up.
Director Michael Susko stays out of the way of the actors, and lets the prevailing message shine through clearly: It’s not about what political party we belong to, it’s about loving ourselves enough so that we can go out and love others even more.
Cue Sade’s “It’s Only Love That Gets You Through.”
Performances of The Bigot (Starting April 26) are Mondays at 7pm, Wednesdays -Thursdays at 7pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, with matinees on Wednesdays at 2pm and Sundays at 3pm (added matinee Sat 4/27 2pm).