Atlanta Life and Culture

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Atlanta playwright Topher Payne makes NY debut with 'Perfect Arrangement'

Atlanta playwright Topher Payne made his New York debut earlier this month with “Perfect Arrangement,” what the New York Times calls a “frothy but ultimately dark comedy” about two State Department employees hiding their same sex relationships during the Pink Scare of the 1950s.

In a recent New York Times article, co-star Julia Coffey described Payne’s play as a story about masks.

That is a common theme for Payne, who won the American Theatre Critics Association ’s New Play Award in 2014 when “Perfect Arrangement” premiered in Washington, D.C. The play was workshopped in Atlanta at Process Theatre , where it locally debuted last year.

“I love telling stories of people hiding in plain sight, people we overlook by their design,” said Payne, calling from New York on his way to catch the subway Monday evening. “Those are the people who are really, really interesting to me. I think it’s a result of growing up in a small town in Mississippi.”

Payne has been in New York since September, when pre-production for “Perfect Arrangement” began.

“I feel like I’ve been to playwrights fantasy camp,” he said about his Big Apple debut.

Now he’s eager to return home to Atlanta to prepare for the world premiere of his new play, “Let Nothing You Dismay,” debuting at Stage Door Players Dec. 4. It marks the first time the 41-year-old theater company has commissioned an original play. Payne also wrote Georgia Ensemble Theatre’s first commissioned play, “Tokens of Affection,” in 2011.

“Anything I can do to get audiences at different theaters to embrace original content. There’s been a real change in the tide in the last seven years or so, seeing Atlanta audiences really embrace that,” he said.

Payne is one of a trio of friends and playwrights who started out working together in Atlanta and have enjoyed growing success in recent years. Lauren Gunderson makes her off-Broadway debut with “I and You” in January; it opens locally Jan. 29 at Aurora Theatre in Lawrenceville . Steve Yockey is having seven productions around the country of his new play “Blackberry Winter,” which opens at Actor’s Express Nov. 6.

Payne describes he and his colleagues as writers who are putting a modern spin on the Southern tradition of storytelling.

“There is a new generation of voices rising up who are combining the best elements of our own tradition and the access we have with global storytelling. They’re recognizing in other markets that Southern writers can surprise. It’s a very exciting time to be from Atlanta.”


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About the Author

Suzanne Van Atten is Features Lead Content Manager for the AJC and editor of Personal Journeys, a long-form narrative feature that appears every Sunday in Living & Arts.