Bryan Batt returns to Off-Broadway with ‘Pay the Writer’

Bryan Batt
Bryan Batt.
Bryan Batt

The actor Bryan Batt is returning to Off-Broadway in a new play, “Pay the Writer.” The play by novelist Tawni O’Dell tracks the multi-decade relationship between a gay literary agent and his client, a Black best-selling novelist near the end of his life trying to tie up loose ends and find closure. 

Batt describes as “an interesting love story.” Though it’s not sexual, the relationship between the two men is the most stable and long-lasting in each of their lives. They meet at a time when both are facing challenges and discrimination as a Black man and a gay man, and like any long-term relationship, it is complicated and at times tempestuous. Batt’s character, Burston Fischer, has had some “really big knocks in the love department” and uses his wit and humor as a survival mechanism, while Cyrus has his own personal battles to fight. Despite their differences — and their conflicts — the relationship endures, up to the point where death will end it.

Central to the play is the question of navigating life’s final chapter. As Batt says, “It’s about what do we forgive? What do we let go? And with artists, do we forget the man and appreciate the art, or is everyone held accountable [to the same standards]?”

It’s a timely question, given current issues around cultural appropriation. Can a playwright accurately depict someone of another race, gender, or identity? Playwright O’Dell is a white, heterosexual cisgender woman, but Batt believes that she’s infused all the characters with human truths that transcend any other identities. One doesn’t have to have lived experience to create and understand diverse characters.

Batt has played many gay characters over the years, famously in the movie “Jeffrey,” and more recently on the series “Mad Men.” Of the latter, he says he loved every minute of it. He portrayed Salvatore Romano, a closeted art director who ultimately gets fired for not having sex with a married client who comes on to him.

Talking about “Mad Men,” Batt said that it was exciting to play a character that so accurately captured the time. In fact, he notes, many of the younger people on the production couldn’t believe that Salvatore would have such a hard life, trying to suppress his identity. Batt assured them it was the way it had been.

“If you were caught being you, your life would have been ruined,” Batt said. “You could have been fired or arrested…and it wasn’t that long ago.”

As a gay actor himself, Batt, 60, says when he started out, it was not easy to be out and gay. There were, he says, “casting directors who were gay and who were perpetuating this prejudice against gay actors.”

“I did have agents tell me, you’re going to have to ‘butch it up’ when you walk in the room, pitch your voice a little lower, don’t gesture too much… At that time, I was a tall lug. I was big, brunette, and brooding looking. My personality didn’t go with my look.”

Fortunately, the world caught up, and Batt has proven himself a gifted comic and a sensitive actor. 

And he intends to keep going. After “Pay the Writer,” his next project is a piece called “Dear Mr. Williams,” an autobiographical show in which he tells his own story using the words of Tennessee Williams from his many writings.

When not performing, Batt lives in his native New Orleans with his husband of many years, Tom Cianfichi, and together they run a home store, Hazelnut on Magazine Street. ( 

Batt is thrilled to be back on stage in New York. He has a treasured memory of when he was going on in “Sunset Boulevard” on Broadway and opening “Jeffrey” in the same week, and a friend in the business said to him, “Enjoy this time because it doesn’t always happen like this. I’ve always remembered that advice, and I’m trying to take it in and enjoy it.” 

“Pay The Writer” | Signature Theatre | 480 West 42nd Street | Tues-Fri 7:30 p.m.; Sat 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun 2 & 7:30 p.m. through September 30 | Tickets from $40 | 110 minutes, no intermission