New play ‘The Bigot’ heads to Shakes Orlando with a look at prejudice in America

By : Jeremy Williams
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As Donald Trump continues with his attempt to “Make America Great Again,” his presidency is having quite an impact on the world of performing arts. Artists, musicians and playwrights are using these polarizing times to create new, meaningful works that are shining bright spotlights on the dark areas of American society.

Two such artists are Gabi and Eva Mor, a married couple who live in Manhattan. Their new play, The Bigot, which opened Off-Broadway last year, heads to the John & Rita Lowndes Shakespeare Center- Mandell Theater in Orlando with performances on Feb. 17-18 and 24-25.

“We were working on a different play when Mr. Trump started to climb up the ladder of the Republican party. We put that play on hold because we wanted to put something out there that addressed what was going on with Trump in this country, and get the conversation going about why someone would be like this,” says Gabi Mor.

Their concern was not only for how Trump was behaving, but that others in the country were so ready and eager to follow.

“Besides the political environment, it seemed like this kind of behavior was becoming acceptable in the general public,” Eva Mor says.

The rise of racism, homophobia and xenophobia in the wake of Trump’s march to the presidency was of great concern to the Mors—they both immigrated to this country more than 30 years ago: Gabi from Israel and Eva from Poland.

Eva Mor had seen firsthand what happens when hatred of that kind goes unchecked.

“When I was a kid in Poland I was beaten plenty for being Jewish. We could only go to school in groups with several of the parents for protection. Bigotry was not foreign to us,” she says. “And as we were growing up in this country, we saw the civil rights movement. As more people in this country started to gain their rights, the bigotry didn’t go away—it just went under the surface. Now it has come back out into the streets and is more widespread. We wanted to address it and touch upon it, and show that otherwise normal people can be bigots.”

The Bigot is directed by Gary Norris and stars Pete Rougeus as Jim, the titular bigot. Jim is a 65-year-old white man who hates everyone who is different than himself, and is constantly getting into arguments with his progressive liberal son Seth, played by Joshua Childers.

“Jim was always arguing with co-workers and is trying to impose his bigotry views on his son,” Gabi Mor says. “Jim is now retired and has burned all his bridges. He is alone.”

The description draws comparisons to the 1970’s sitcom All In The Family which revolves around working-class bigot Archie Bunker and his family, particularly the relationship between Archie and his hippy son-in-law, whom he calls Meathead.

“Think of a somewhat intelligent Archie Bunker-type and a Meathead with a job,” says Norris. “[Jim’s] son is a teacher and a left wing liberal and they go at it all the time.”

The comparison is fair, say the Mors, but the character of Jim is more of an Archie Bunker 2.0.

“Archie was a bigot from the gut; Jim is more a bigot from the head. He knows how to justify it and support it to himself,” Eva Mor says. “The idea was to help you realize that people like him are all around. You see someone walking down the street and they seem so normal and decent, but behind the mask, once they are surrounded by their four walls, they are totally different.”

Jim’s hate and bigotry are also observed by his neighbors Aysha and Paula, an interracial lesbian couple living next door, played by Iris Johnson and Michelle Burkett, respectively.

Aysha and Paula are close friends with Seth, who confides in them the severity of his father’s health problems.

“Jim is very ill. He has a kidney problem and looks like he will need a transplant,” Norris says. “Paula gets involved to help take care of him, and he starts to warm up to her. But Aysha has as much hatred for Jim as he does for her.”

Much of the emotional weight of the show comes from Jim and Aysha’s interactions. Aysha is a doctor and, of everyone in his life, is the one who can offer the most assistance to Jim.

“He is a bigoted guy who needs help and he won’t accept it because it’s not from who he thinks is the ideal person,” Johnson says. “Basically if you’re not a white male he ain’t feeling ya.”

Gabi and Eva Mor were focused on showing the different relationships in The Bigot and how these interactions with each person we come in contact with can affect who we are.

“A bigot will affect everyone who they come across,” says Gabi Mor. “He will infuse that bigotry onto a person if he can, and that is what happened to Jim. He is a second-generation bigot, and the audience finds out how the relationship with a bigoted father and son can poison how one thinks.”

Something else that was important to Gabi and Eva Mor was to have an honest portrayal of an open LGBTQ couple in the story.

“We interviewed several lesbian couples for this play so we could create real, authentic people in these characters. What we realized, and you will see this in the play, the couple is just like any other couple you know or will meet. They live their lives just like everybody else,” Gabi Mor says.

“It was very important for us to show Aysha and Paula in several everyday ordinary situations to show the audience, and Jim, that we all have more in common than we think,” Eva Mor continued. “The more we realize that, the more the bigots are likely to change for the better.”

The Bigot will make its Orlando premiere at the John & Rita Lowndes Shakespeare Center- Mandell Theater at 812 E. Rollins St., Orlando. Show dates are Saturday, Feb. 17 at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, Feb. 18 at 2:30 p.m.; Saturday Feb. 24 at 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, Feb. 25 at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are available at the Shakespeare Theater box office, online at TheBigot.TicketLeap.com or by calling 917-945-7070.

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