Topher Payne hears the echo of ‘Beached Wails’

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imageBefore he was a veteran Atlanta playwright, Topher Payne opened his first play “Beached Wails” in the ATL back in 2002. Payne and Stage Door Players dust off the cobwebs and re-open the play Friday.

“Beached Wails” finds four sisters from Mississippi on an annual beach vacation from their husbands and kids. The cast includes Amanda Cucher, Kathleen McCook, Jackie Prucha, and Kathy Simmons as the sisters.

Besides getting caught in a hurricane, their vacation is interrupted by a mysterious stranger (Josh Donahue).

There are no gay characters in “Beached Wails,” but one of the sisters has “blinding evidence” that her son is gay, says Payne, although she is in “Southern style” denial.

After the debut of “Beached Wails” — the first full-length play Payne (photo) ever wrote — he made some slight changes to the characters. The show has gone on to have life regionally, says Payne, although this is the first time the revised version has been produced locally.

The characters aren’t real people, but Payne says that his mother laughs that this is “loosely based” on her, since she and her sisters do take an annual vacation.

Payne wrote “Beached Wails” during a time when he was dealing with severe health issues, so he can certainly relate to some of the situations in the play.

“The experience of going through cancer treatment while writing it definitely had me considering what really happens next, after we’re done with life here,” he says. “One of the sisters in the play has lost her husband, and is left with the same questions. The answer the play provides is absolutely what I believe.”

The former David magazine columnist and playwright, who just last week closed his take on Joan and Christina Crawford, “Christina Darling,” says that the material he is drawn to has changed over the years.

“I started off writing about family, blood relation, and then my plays expanded to coworkers, your new family,” he says. “But now that I am married, I think I’ve gone full circle to family again.”

This is the first time Stage Door has produced one of Payne’s plays. He personally suggested Stage Door’s artistic director Robert Egizio direct the show, saying that he likes the way Egizio handles material that deals with family dynamics.

Egizio says he was delighted to take on “Beached Wails.”

“What I like about Topher and this piece is that he draws from personal experiences and he captures the Southern voice,” Egizio says.

“Beached Wails” opens Friday and runs through June 6 at Stage Door Players. Click the theater name or call 770-396-1726.

imageJim Farmer is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and public relations professional specializing in film promotions. He is the director of the annual Out On Film, Atlanta’s gay and lesbian film festival, and has been a theater and pop-culture critic for more than a dozen years.

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