It’s about as big a damn deal as it gets in the theater world for an emerging playwright, and it’s happening to gay Atlanta’s own Topher Payne. The American Theatre Critics Association is giving his work its 2014 Osborne New Play Award.
The honor couldn’t go to a more prolific member of gay Atlanta’s arts and culture scene, or to a gayer play by him. Early on, the marriage equality play “Perfect Arrangement” trod the boards at OnStage Atlanta when gay audiences but perhaps not the whole world were all up in legalizing marriage. But the play's June premiere last year via Washington, D.C.’s Source Festival hit not just the right theatrical notes but right on the national zeitgeist over the Supreme Court’s marriage equality rulings.
ATCA is as confident in its choice as those of us who know Payne better.
While not well known nationally, Payne has recently become a fixture in the greater Atlanta theater community as an actor and as a playwright of a dozen works, especially for smaller progressive companies. He is an artistic associate with Atlanta’s Process Theatre Company and the Flying Carpet Theatre and is the executive producer of the Atlanta 24-Hour Plays for Working Title Playwrights.
In “Perfect Arrangement,” which shares its LGBT theme with much of Payne’s work, two married couples live side by side in a Georgetown duplex in 1950. Their life is depicted as a television sit-com, down to comical visits from their boss and his wife, and the play’s cast list likens them to characters from “I Love Lucy” and “The Donna Reed Show.” But they work for the U.S. State Department developing criteria for identifying employees with Communist tendencies and they have just been asked to identify “sexual deviants.”
The kicker is that both the husbands and wives are gay, joined in sham marriages so they can live with their loved ones. But the laughs evaporate as the quartet wrestle with the hypocrisy of their lives.
Whether he’s blowing up “Angry Fags” or making Creative Loafing’s gays to watch cut, advocating for fair gender roles in print or bending them himself on stage, Payne is an Atlanta force to be reckoned with. It’s about time the rest of the country caught up with us.
Payne picks up his award on April 5 at the Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville, Ky.
Photo by Joeff Davis for Creative Loafing