The American Theatre Critics Association has announced that this year’s prestigious M. Elizabeth Osborn Award will go to Topher Payne from Atlanta, Georgia for Perfect Arrangement, a play which premiered in Washington at CulturalDC’s 2013 Source Festival, DC Theatre Scene has learned.
The Osborn Award “recognizes a work by an author whose plays have not yet received a major production, such as off-Broadway or Broadway, nor received other major national awards,” ATCA’s website explains. The national organization awards the Osborn, named after the late Theatre Communications Group and American Theatre magazine play editor M. Elizabeth Osborn, annually.
Perfect Arrangement is a play about two 1950s gay couples – one male, one female – who try to live amidst the heterosexual mainstream by entering sham marriages with each other. Although Bob and Millie are married, as are Jim and Norma, and the two couples appear to be friends and neighbors, the real couples are Bob and Jim and Millie and Norma. Trouble begins when Bob’s boss asks Bob – an expert in rooting out Communists in the State Department – to begin a program to root out “sexual deviants.”
“The best thing about Topher Payne’s fabulous Perfect Arrangement is its pitch-perfect capture of the 1950s comic voice and its application to the dreadfully serious drama in which we have all been cast,” DCTS’ Tim Treanor wrote at the time. “Payne brilliantly employs [the 50s sitcom] structure to tell a story which – unlike a fifties sitcom – results in pain, calamity and despair.”
Linda Lombardi directed the Source Festival production, which featured Andrew Keller, Raven Bonniwell, Natalie Cutcher, Kiernan McGowan, Zach Brewster-Geisz, Karen Lange and Jill Nienhiser.
Payne said that the Source Festival materially contributed to the play’s success. “At Source, I had the mentorship of a group of exceptional artists who are devoted to the development of new work,” the playwright explained. “As a playwright without an agent or publisher, it can often feel like an uphill battle. Without the support of an organization like CulturalDC’s Source Festival, that is willing to take a risk on unknown writers with stories worth telling, it would frankly be an impossibility. So I’m really grateful that Perfect Arrangement was as important to them as it is to me. We told a story that mattered while making people laugh, which is my exact goal every time I put pen to paper.”
To Source Festival Artistic Director Jenny McConnell Frederick, the time and the play were right. “From the first moment that I read this play, I knew that it was special and that it needed to be produced here in DC. Producing this play in June 2013 when the Supreme Court struck down DOMA provided one of those rare moments where the perfect play comes around at the perfect moment and the absolute necessity of what we do as artists was crystal clear.”
On June 26, 2013, midway through Perfect Arrangement’s production run at Source, the Supreme Court ruled that a key portion of the Defense of Marriage Act, a Clinton-era statute which permitted States to disregard same-sex marriages which were legally performed in other States, was unconstitutional (U.S. v. Windsor, 570 U.S. ____ (2013)). “ This play is the ideal catalyst for the often difficult conversation that need to be had across our country right now.” Frederick said.
Payne will receive his Osborne Award, which carries a $1,000 honorarium, on April 5th at the Humana Festival in Louisville, KY where ATCA will also be holding its annual convention.
CulturalDC’s 2014 Source Festival will be held June 6- 29. Here are this year’s full length plays