“Furlough’s Paradise” / Screenshot from Promo video

‘Furlough’s Paradise’ and ‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’ Feature Rich LGBTQ Characters

Two new ATL shows feature LGBTQ characters prominently. The world premiere drama, “Furlough’s Paradise,” by playwright A.K. Payne, has just premiered at the Alliance Theatre. It’s part of the Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition, now in its 20th year.

“Paradise” is a two-character drama looking at the lives of cousins Sade (Kai Heath) and Mina (Asha Basha Duniani). They grew up on the same street and were once very close, but their lives went on different paths after middle school when Mina attended a charter school and Sade went to a public school. When the mother of one passes away and the women return home for the funeral, they attempt to reunite.

Sade is now in prison, furloughed for three days, and Mina is an Ivy League graduate with a job in California. Both talk about their female partners and much more over their three days together. Sade is a bit surprised by some of the revelations Mina shares about her current girlfriend.

Payne’s play is observant and gives both characters nuance and dimension. Throughout the 80-minute work, the two dive into where they are now, but also what led to this point. “Paradise” is directed with energy and passion by Tinashe Kajese-Bolden, also Alliance’s artistic director. Even when it takes on a surreal feel, the goings-on are believable.

My only slight criticism is that after so much time apart, the reunion of the duo seems to take place rather too quickly. There is much pain and baggage behind their bond that comes out — eventually.

Both performers are excellent; even when the two are rehashing what drove them apart, there is palpable compassion and respect for each other. It helps that the play is so well written. It will be interesting to see where “Paradise” heads from here and what tweaks Payne can make to an already solid work.

Actor’s Express has just opened the acclaimed musical, “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie,” about a teenager who dreams of becoming a drag queen. Noah Vega plays the titular character with Shashi Yammada, Jill Hames and Shelli Delgado bringing other roles to life. Georgia Voice recently caught up with the company’s artistic director, Freddie Ashley, who is also directing the show, to talk about his attraction to the work.

What made you want to stage the musical?

I’ve been a fan of the show since I first saw the London production in a cinema broadcast by National Theatre Live and I thought it was great. I saw the movie when it screened [locally] a couple of years ago. Matt Huff, who directs theater at Oglethorpe, and I were talking about possible shows to collaborate on for this year, and he asked if I had ever thought about “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.” I said, “I love that show but I can’t imagine we can get the rights to it yet because I thought it was going to play Broadway.” He said it was on Concord Theatrical’s website, so I contacted our rep there and one thing led to another and we got the rights. It was a no-brainer.

What do you like about it?

A lot. I love the music. It is upbeat, fun, and heartfelt. I love that it is a story that avoids familiar tropes. This is a story about a queer kid trying to express himself and be accepted, but he is the hero of the story. He has a mother who is very supportive and a best friend who is very supportive. It’s not about the internal struggle to come out or his victimhood. While there are obstacles that he faces and discrimination he faces, I think it’s told through a lens of triumph and victory that is irresistible.

What all is Jamie dealing with?

He is a boy in Sheffield, England, a working-class city in Northern England. We meet him on his 16th birthday, and he wants to be a drag queen. His mom knows it, as does his mom’s best friend. He starts to run into trouble at school. He has a very strict teacher who wants him to conform and not cause distractions to the other students. She gives him a pretty rough time. He has a father who is absent, and his mom has been covering for the dad because she doesn’t want Jamie to know he wants nothing to do with him. She has been sending birthday cards for the father to carry on this lie that Jamie has a father who cares about him. He is mentored by an older drag queen who has given up but is inspired by Jamie and his optimism.

It’s a scary time now with so many anti-LGBTQ/anti-drag laws. Did that have an effect on wanting to do this now?

That is one of the reasons we wanted to do this this time of year. It’s very important for me to be running during the time the General Assembly is in session. I don’t know if there are going to be any horrible anti-drag or ant-LGBTQ laws debated this session, but given the track record of some of our neighboring Southern states and other states around the country I think it is a possibility. I wanted this show to be out there staking its claim.

“Furlough’s Paradise” runs through March 3 at the Alliance Hertz Stage

“Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” runs through March 3 at Oglethorpe University