Topher Payne and DeWayne Morgan, who work together on Process Theatre’s “Designing Women,” are joining forces for a version of the campy “Auntie Mame.”
Payne stars as the infamous titular character while Morgan plays sidekick Vera Charles. The theatre company had been talking about doing the play for a few years and found a place for it this season, with the two popular openly gay actors in the forefront. The show runs April 14 to May 4 at Onstage Atlanta.
Payne says bringing Mame to life has been enjoyable but trying.
‘Auntie Mame’ April 14 – May 4 at Onstage Atlanta 2597 North Decatur Road Decatur, GA 30033, www.onstageatlanta.com
‘White Like Me: A Honky-Dory Puppet Show’ April 20 -22 at Center for Puppetry Arts 1404 Spring St., Atlanta, GA 30309 www.puppet.org
‘Peter Pan’ Through May 27 Center for Puppetry Arts
“She is in every scene, except for her (16) costume changes,” he admits. “I knew it would be a challenge, but the stamina has been the discovery. I had to train to play her.”
He calls director Barbara Cole’s version revolutionary.
“Charles Busch has played Mame, and so has Varla Jean Merman, but this is the first version I know of where some of the men play women and women play men,” he says.
Payne feels “Mame” is so beloved because she and the show were ahead of their time. “The only thing she could not tolerate was intolerance,” he says. Playing Vera, says Morgan, is every gay man’s fantasy. “The whole world revolves around her,” he says. “She is exactly what you’d think a star would be.”
Exploring race through puppets
Openly gay puppeteer Paul Zaloom has been a frequent performer with the Center for Puppetry Arts for almost three decades now. Next weekend he brings a new show to the ATL, the politically themed yet farcical “White Like Me: A Honky-Dory Puppet Show.”
In it, Zaloom explores what he deems the anxiety of the Caucasian majority.
“There’s a line in the show where someone asks when White History Month is, and I say ‘every day,’” he says. “I had thought — why not do a show on white identity. I make fun of white folks becoming a minority.”
Divided into two halves, the first section of the show finds a ventriloquist bringing a dummy back to life after 50 years and catching him up with the world. In doing so, the ventriloquist tells him about having the first black president, gay marriage, gays in the military and the first female secretary of state. The second half is a fantasy about the history of “whiteness.”
As someone who can remember the 1963 Birmingham church bombings, Zaloom is happy to see this moment in history.
“We are at an interesting place in our country,” he says. “The election of Obama was a profound event – in my opinion it was the most profound of my life.”
Zaloom — also known as Beakman on “Beakman’s World” — feels his main objective with his work is to “make people laugh their asses off,” and not hit them over the head with the message.
“This is more food for thought,” he says. ‘This is not didactic. I want to look at the attitude about race – it’s really interesting to think about.”
Also at the Center is a new version of “Peter Pan.” Luis Hernandez, who is gay, is the puppeteer for the villainous Captain Hook. He has been working on and off at the Center in various productions since 2005.
He thinks “Pan” will resonate with LGBT audiences.
“The idea of never growing up – we can relate to that,” he says. “Captain Hook here is very much a fop — and kind of a bitchy queen.”
Top photo: Topher Payne, who also writes the ‘Domestically Disturbed’ column for GA Voice, stars in ‘Auntie Mame’ opening April 14 at Onstage Atlanta. (by Tom Gillespie)