Gay playwright Topher Payne's latest play centers on the commitment of family

‘Tokens of Affection’ continues at Georgia Ensemble Theatre

Georgia Ensemble Theatre
950 Forrest St.
Roswell, GA
7:30 p.m.

Openly gay writer Topher Payne is used to penning new plays, but with his current “Tokens of Affection,” he adds a new hat — that of director. His world premiere comedy opens at Georgia Ensemble Theatre this week. Payne calls it “The Parent Trap” for grownups.

“Tokens of Affection” is the story of siblings Charlie and Claire (Matt Myers and Kelly Criss), whose parents split after 37 years of marriage. Not happy with the idea of having two single parents in their 60s, the siblings scheme to get them back together.

Payne says he had a couple of inspirations for “Tokens of Affection.” The main one was marrying his husband in 2008.

“It really got me to thinking about what that commitment looks like two or three decades later,” he says. “(It) led to many great conversations with people who have partnerships I admire, including my own parents. The play is a vehicle for a lot of those stories, and my own experiences in sharing a life with another person.”

Payne describes another of his inspirations as “those breezy 1960s New York romantic comedies — ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s,’ ‘Barefoot in the Park,’ ‘Sunday in New York’ — set in a best case scenario version of the city where everyone dresses well and has a fabulous apartment.”

“They’re about people with intelligence and wit, who actually seem like adults you’d want to be friends with,” he says. “I wondered what the 2011 version would look like.”

Directing this production has added an extra level of responsibility for the always-busy playwright.

“I’ve directed staged readings and small productions of my work, but nothing on this scale,” Payne says. “When the production manager sent out the contact sheet with 30 names on it, I realized I was gonna need my big-boy pants for this one.

“My greatest joy has been the level of involvement with the design team. I’ve never had this much input or control in one of my own works,” Payne says. “But as I’ve said all along, I wrote it, I cast it, I directed. If the show doesn’t work, I got nobody to blame but me.”

He is especially excited to be working with a new theatre. He submitted the script to Georgia Ensemble Theatre and didn’t hear back for a while.

“That’s not surprising when you consider (they) hadn’t done an original work in 15 years, and they’d just gotten a script from a guy best known for impersonating Dixie Carter and writing columns about gay bars,” Payne says.

It all worked out, however. It helped that he has a good relationship with actress Judy Leavell, who has worked with GET a number of times. He sent her the script, she liked it and lobbied on his behalf.

“It was an act of kindness that paid off for her, too,” he says. “She’s playing the mom.”

Reaching a new audience with this work is also a goal.

“A good portion of [GET’s] subscribers won’t have any previous experience with my work, and that’s kind of exciting,” Payne says.

“I’m hoping the Midtown crowd will make the drive out for this one, and that the Roswell audiences will make the drive in next time I’m produced in Atlanta.”

“Tokens of Affection” contains no gay content, but Payne still hopes LGBT audiences will see it.

“The only gay theme in this joint is me, but I play my theme pretty loud,” he admits. “I’d hope that LGBT audiences would learn the same thing from this play that straight audiences would: Finding a partner, building a life, it’s a tricky, beautiful, constantly evolving thing. But if you manage to fi nd that partnership, no matter what it looks like, it’s absolutely worth celebrating.”


Editor’s note: Due to the ongoing weather situation in Atlanta, it is advised that you contact the Georgia Ensemble Theatre before heading to tonight’s show. For more information, please visit