The Bigot, ironically enough, struck me as an inoffensive play, even shying away from using vulgar slurs. While the story follows a dying, prejudiced old man’s relationship to the interracial lesbian couple next door, the script simplifies the causes and interpersonal effects of racism and homophobia in order to, I assume, make these subjects easier for an audience to digest. The play’s failing: It tries to maintain its semi-comedic, semi-dramatic and otherwise hopeful tone, and feels unrealistic, barring well-executed emotional scenes that give credit to the actors more than the script.
Many plays go overboard in the “subtlety” department, with opaque scripts that can make it difficult to discern deeper meaning. To its detriment, The Bigot does the exact opposite. Characters say exactly what they mean, and exactly what they feel, even reciting backstories in exposition-heavy opening conversations. The plot controls the characters, rather than developing organically through conversation, action and reaction. As an audience, we can see the puppet strings, the message the playwrights want to convey, and the exact way the characters must act to reach that goal.
Kudos to the actors, however. My companion and I agreed that in spite of the unnatural lines written for him, the bigot character, Jim (Bruce Carter) came off incredibly convincing. Though he’s set up to be the most detestable kind of person, Carter turned Jim into a pathetic, nearly sympathetic figure by the end. Jim’s (arguably fairy-tale) character development read more realistic thanks to Carter’s performance.
Joanne Koehler, playing Paula, also stood out, adding an element of physicality that immediately endeared her to the audience. Her wide smile flinging open the door of Jim’s apartment, or her nervous hand-wringing when she’s trying to convince her girlfriend Aysha (Hayley King) to help Jim, are elements of solid acting that elevated the script and made Paula the most fun to watch.
King as Aysha and Chris Medina as Jim’s son Seth had tough lines to deliver, but they did well. Much of Seth’s action dealt with teaching his bigoted father high-school level civil rights history, and Aysha bore the burden of explaining complicated health legalese to the other characters. Both actors made it through their scripted lists of facts, figures and definitions while expressing vulnerability and subtle humor that the script didn’t provide.
The Bigot, to its credit, does start conversations about personal change, prejudice and “taking the high road,” but if you and your theater companions should find yourself discussing these subjects afterward, your conversation should dare to delve deeper than the play itself did.