An ailing curmudgeonly widower, his dutiful son and a lesbian couple are the well-drawn characters in this quaintly charming NYC dark family comedy.
She was too loud with her damn cucaracha music blasting away in the kitchen…I have a suspicion that her family was somehow connected to the JFK assassination.
Damn dykes… Those people carry diseases.
I’m saying that there is a justifying reason for what you call slavery… A necessity of that time… Sometimes under a set of circumstances one needs to do what one needs to do.
These are just some of the politically incorrect bon mots tossed off throughout The Bigot by its Fox News-watching titular character in playwrights Gabi and Eva Mor’s quaintly charming contemporary dark comedy.
Widowed, on dialysis and in failing health, the curmudgeonly Jim spends his days in his messy Brooklyn apartment awaiting visits from his son. He is 40-year-old Seth who is a single college history professor and dutifully shows up when he has time. The two have an uneasy relationship and were estranged for years after the death of Seth’s mother.
Seth enlists Jim’s neighbors to look in on him. That is complicated by the fact that they’re a lesbian couple. The Caucasian Paula is a nurse and the African-American Aysha is a gerontologist who’ve been together just over two months. The actions shift from one apartment to the other. Will Jim get a new kidney? Will they all get along? Will we find out why Jim and Seth had a falling out and will they reconcile?
The playwrights’ proficient dialogue is matched by their solidly constructed scenario with its Norman Lear-style comedic sensibility that enriches their well-drawn characters. A grouch espousing outrageous views that clash with those who are enlightened is a perennial device. It’s the territory of Archie Bunker, Maude and George Jefferson.
The Bigot’s mouthpiece is the splendid Stephen Payne. Scruffy and silver-haired, Mr. Payne revels in Jim’s cantankerousness and physical decrepitude. Bellowing in his resonant twangy voice as if in a Sam Shepard play, Payne is able to make the most corrosive statements sound funny while expressing emotion. His vivid characterization emits humanity, making the crusty Jim much more than just an ogre. By the end of the play, the role has accumulated the impact of an Arthur Miller-type figure due to Payne’s intense performance.
Bearded, scholarly and passionate, the affable Dana Watkins as Seth is a fine foil for Payne and their slight resemblance aids in believing that they’re father and son. Mr. Watkins’ wonderful soulfulness is powerfully on display during fiery exchanges with Payne.
The bright-eyed and animated Jaimi Paige is delightful as Paula. Ms. Page’s sunny presence conveys the character’s euphoria at having met her soulmate and aids in trying to forge a bond with the odious Jim. Faiven Feshazion is captivating as Aysha. The beaming Ms. Feshazion wonderfully veers from depicting romantic feelings to anger when dealing with Jim. Feshazion and Paige’s palpable chemistry contribute depth to their characterizations.
Director Michael Susko’s straightforward staging realizes the piece’s humor, drama and sensitivity through accomplished simplicity. Adam Grinson’s basic scenic design realistically represents the two apartments with individualistic detail. Lighting designer Daniel L. Taylor provides an artful steadiness and assists with the numerous scene transitions with precise blackouts maintaining a swift pace. The characters are visualized by costume designer Barbara Erin’s inspired grasp of everyday style.
Though topicality wafts through The Bigot, it’s really an entertaining old-fashioned well-made play with a slight edge. It premiered in 2017 at New York City’s Manhattan Repertory Theatre which gives opportunities to emerging playwrights with free productions at their ongoing new works festivals. It was subsequently performed in several U.S. cities.
The Bigot (through June 9, 2019)
Theatre at St. Clement’s, 423 West 46th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 800-447-7400 or visit http://www.thebigotplay.com
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission
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