Technically, Topher Payne and DeWayne Morgan are not joined at the hip, but in Atlanta theatre, it can seem like they are. Payne’s latest play “Lakebottom Proper” gets its local debut Friday with Morgan as director.
The Process Theatre production at Onstage Atlanta is a comedy spinning around the Tuttles (Tad and Rowena), who are a “proper” couple – living in the right part of town in Columbus, Ga., and desperately trying to get their problem child Portia into a prestigious school.
To impress a lesbian couple that co-chairs the school board, Rowena tells a big lie – that she and her maid are best friends when in fact they are anything but. With the board chairs over one night for a visit, and lies and alcohol flowing, the evening gets crazier when a kidnapper comes after young Portia.
As mainstays on the scene in gay Atlanta, Payne and Morgan have been working on stage together for more than 10 years and have developed an undeniable trust. Their first show as playwright and director was Payne’s “Relations Unknown,” and they have done almost a half dozen since then, including last year’s “Christina Darling,” Payne’s world premiere that saw him portraying Joan Crawford herself.
“I think Topher realizes that I get him and his sense of humor,” Morgan says. “I understand his voice. We have been working with each other so long that there are things we just know about each other.”
Their collaborations also include sharing the stage in Process Theatre projects like the popular fundraiser stagings of “Designing Women Live!” in which the pair plays TV’s Sugarbaker sisters.
Payne’s “Lakebottom” was first commissioned by the Springer Opera House in Columbus, Ga., and the company finished their 2010-2011 season with it. Payne calls that production “a larger-scale one than the one here,” but he admits a soft spot for smaller productions like this in which he and the cast and crew are involved every detail, such as “painting windows until four in the morning” when need be.
“That is what I am used to, what I fell in love with,” he says. “The company has grown so much and is able to do so much more, but Process is really still just a group of people willing to do whatever it takes to put on a show.”
“Lakebottom Proper” opens Friday and runs through Oct. 1 at Onstage Atlanta. Click their link or call 404-245-4205.
Jim Farmer is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and public relations professional specializing in film promotions. He has been a theater and pop-culture critic for more than a dozen years and is the director of Atlanta’s annual Out On Film gay and lesbian film festival.