The Enigmatic, Enchanting Doris Payne

Reviews

By Dana Zhang

In short interconnected sketches, Monette McLin tells us about Doris Marie Payne, and the intrigue that surrounded this real‑life international thief. At turns Ms. McLin is Doris Payne herself, the emcee of a bingo game, a news anchor, a sheriff and an investigator. These characters present wildly different opinions on Payne, and intensify her alluring mystique. As we learn more about this flamboyant woman, we,  too, are drawn into her charm through Ms. McLin’s performance.
 
Ms. McLin gives certain characters extraordinary charisma, such as the savvy, confident investigator who calls Payne “one of a kind, a phoenix from the ashes.” He believes she is an urban legend, even though her crimes were widely publicized and documented. Equipped with only her charm, a neat appearance, and sleight of hand, Doris Payne pulls off heists again and again, even after several stints in prison.
 
Other characters also cast doubt on Payne’s existence, and are skeptical that she carried out heists all on her own. One character insists Payne, a black woman, was invented to besmirch African‑Americans, and suggests that a white man is actually behind the crimes. The bingo game emcee, trying to raise money for a Doris Payne Retirement Fund, calls her a pop culture legend who has moved up in the world without a college degree.
 
Payne eventually tells us about the time she stole a diamond ring. By moving the ring around during a body search and removing the diamond from its mount, she was able to conceal it from the police. As a young girl, she discovered that store attendants would ignore her to attend to more important customers, enabling her to leave the store with priceless jewelry. In adulthood, she perfected her craft. She steals because she can.
 
Payne isn’t a kleptomaniac or an obsessive‑compulsive thief who was ill‑bred, as the investigator implies. Instead,  she is driven by her desire to prove people wrong, especially those who keep black women down by telling them who they can and cannot be. Ms. McLin portrays each character with unique traits and quirks.
 
In her final speech, Payne says she does not feel remorse for stealing. But she “can cry, if you really want me to.” Her face instantly crumples as she feigns an apology. Through Ms. McLin, we meet an elegant woman who lives with conviction and pride.
 
Phoenix Payne
Performed by Monette McLin
Oct. 16 at 7:30pm
Photo, courtesy of the production
United Solo 2018
Theatre Row
410 West 42nd Street
New York City

DANA ZHANG is a multimedia journalist versed in editorial, photography, and video editing. She writes about pop culture, the performing arts industry, and the human experience. Zhang graduated from New York University in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and interned at Newsweek Media for a year while in university. Zhang is also an avid gamer and dancer.
 

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