Atlanta’s Topher Payne has won the 2014 M. Elizabeth Osborn New Play Award from the American Theatre Critics Association. The award recognizes an emerging playwright and will be presented April 5 at the prestigious Humana Theater Festival at Actors Theatre of Louisville.
The Osborn Award comes for the play Perfect Arrangement, which premiered in June 2013 at The Source Festival in Washington, D.C. The prize is designed to recognize the work of an author who has not yet achieved national stature. It comes with a $1,000 prize.
In Perfect Arrangement, two married couples live side by side in a Georgetown duplex in 1950. Their lives are depicted as a TV sitcom, down to comical visits from their boss and his wife, a la “I Love Lucy” and “The Donna Reed Show.” Both couples work for the U.S. State Department developing criteria for identifying employees with Communist tendencies and have just been asked to identify “sexual deviants.”
The kicker is that all four are gay, joined in sham marriages so they can live with their loved ones. The laughs evaporate as they wrestle with the hypocrisy of their lives. Part nostalgic comedy, part social drama, the plot tracks the couples as they consider whether to scrap their comfortable middle-class Eisenhower existence for a life defined by pride and integrity.
Payne may not be a national name yet, but he’s certainly made his presence felt in metro Atlanta. His plays Swell Party (Georgia Ensemble Theatre) and Angry Fags (7 Stages) were nominated for outstanding world premiere at the 2013 Suzi awards, Atlanta’s professional theater honors. Angry Fags won the Gene-Gabriel Moore Playwriting Award. Payne’s The Only Light in Reno debuted at GET in January. You may also know him from Lakebottom Proper and Evelyn in Purgatory. The latter won the 2012 Essential Theatre Playwriting Award.
Payne, 34, says he’s at work now on his first screenplay, a horror movie that’s also about gentrification in Atlanta. And he’s wading through research on the swirl of intrigue surrounding the death of President Warren G. Harding.
The playwright, who also acts, moved to Atlanta from Mississippi at age 19, according to his website. He’s married to Tommy Payne. They live with a beagle named Daisy in a house “where everybody laughs a lot and dances in the kitchen.”