Violence against the LGBTQ community has a long, horrifying history. What would happen if members of the community fought back?
That question is central to the play in production now at 7 Stages. Atlanta writer Topher Payne’s provocatively titled “Angry Fags” is about a pair of young gay men, Bennett and Cooper, who take up arms against their perceived oppressors after one of their friends is beaten and hospitalized. Their journey into violence quickly spirals out of control.
“The title is a word that people rightfully find offensive,” Payne tells “City Lights” producer Myke Johns. “It’s also a title that I have carried with me since I was 9 years old. So I have that experience of feeling a sense of ‘other.'”
That sense of being an oppressed group whose attackers go unpunished is what pushes Bennett and Cooper to vigilantism. This does not, Payne points out, exonerate them from blame.
“When people are under threat,” he says, “it’s very to go to that space of ‘How dare you.’ Entitlement turns toxic super fast. And because they’re egging each other on it gets uglier and uglier faster and faster.”
The play had its world premiere at 7 Stages in 2013, during Obama’s second term. Same-sex marriage was headed toward becoming a federally protected right, and as the country seemed to be headed toward electing its first woman president, Payne wanted to update the show.
“And then November 2016 happened,” he says. “The time setting for the play now is simply ‘After Trump.’ I firmly believe the repercussions of the Trump presidency are something our generation will contend with for the rest of our lives.”
This updated version is being co-directed by Kate MacQueen and Iwi Owolabi and runs through April 14 at 7 Stages in Little 5 Points.
While domestic terrorism is a reality that the country lives with, it may be difficult to accept that a play about young men following that path could portray them at first as sympathetic.
“Monsters are not born monsters, monsters are created,” says co-director Kate MacQueen. “We as an audience wouldn’t care if Bennett and Cooper were terrible people who did terrible things. But when you meet these two men who you love and find funny and sweet…and then they turn out to be terrible, that’s heartbreaking.
“That’s why this is a cautionary tale, and not a glorification of violence.”