The Springer Opera House opened “Perfect Arrangement” last week. The play was written by former Springer actor Topher Payne, and was produced on 42nd Street in New York City before coming to Columbus.
According to Paul Pierce, Director of the Springer Opera House, Payne originally connected with the Springer in 2008. “I knew Topher first as an actor,” said Pierce. “We hired him to perform on our national tours of ‘A Tuna Christmas’ and ‘Greater Tuna’ in 2008-09.”
The relationship did not stop there, however. “Because he was on the road, he couldn’t attend our season auditions that year,” said Pierce. “However, he cleverly arranged to showcase a scene from one of his plays using his tour mates — including the technicians.”
Pierce was amazed by Payne’s work from the instant he saw his first scene. “I was blown away by the quality of the writing and realized then that he was something truly special,” he said. “ In 2010, I commissioned Topher to write a comedy set in Columbus and we produced ‘Lakebottom Proper’ the next year on the mainstage. It went over so well, I commissioned a prequel from him called ‘Lakebottom Prime’ which was also a big hit for us.”
During this time, Pierce and Payne developed a friendship as they worked together to produce Payne’s work for Springer audiences. Pierce continued to follow Payne’s work, and became one of his biggest supporters. “As I predicted,” said Pierce, “Topher became a big name in American theater over the following years.”
Payne’s rise to fame in American theater included scripting two original films for The Hallmark Channel, getting two of his original plays into production, then receiving the M. Elizabeth Osborn Award from the American Theatre Critics Association for Best New Play by an Emerging Playwright. He won the Osborn Award for “Perfect Arrangement” in 2014, and immediately was catapulted into the spotlight.
“Perfect Arrangement” is a comedy that focuses on four gay State Department employees who struggle to keep their secrets in the closet — literally. Pierce loved the play from the very beginning. “When I went to New York to see ‘Perfect Arrangement’ at the Duke Theatre on 42nd Street,” said Pierce, “I knew for sure that the Springer would be producing the play.”
So what made “Perfect Arrangement” such a big hit? According to Pierce, it’s the way Payne stylized the script. “I like the way that Topher creates a wholesome live 1950s tv sitcom — much like ‘I Love Lucy’ or ‘Leave it to Beaver’ — and then unspools a series of surprises that are both clever and wildly inventive,” said Pierce. “You laugh until you hurt, but as you leave the theater, you realize, “Wow, I think I just learned something!”
In a review for Arts Atlanta, reporter Jim Farmer said “Topher Payne’s brilliant, farcical ‘Perfect Arrangement’ is sadly relevant.” Though the play is set in the 1950s, many of the themes and points made about the status of those in the LGBT community of the 1950’s feel as though they still ring true today.
Pierce acknowledged the magnitude of the message of this important work in American theater. “After 41 years producing theater, I think this may be the most important play of my career,” he said. “I’m proud that Topher could be here to direct this spectacular cast for us.”
“Perfect Arrangement” runs through April 22 in the McClure Theatre at the Springer. Pierce noted it’s helpful for audiences to know the play is not intended for children. “The quick pace and comic situations make this a fun romp for most any audience,” said Pierce. “However, there is a bit of adult language, and it deals with a challenging period in the lives of gay Americans in the 1950s. I would say PG-16 is a pretty good way of thinking about it.”
For more information on “Perfect Arrangement” or to purchase tickets from The Springer Opera House, please visit springeroperahouse.org.
If You Go:
What: “Perfect Arrangement”
Where: McClure Theatre, Springer Opera House
When: Through April 22. Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. April 19-21 and 2:30 p.m. April 22.