City Cafe

Reason and Fear: Angry ____ at 7 Stages Theater

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This story is about a play by writer Topher Payne which is seeing its world premier at 7 Stages Theater in Little Five Points. And that’s all great, but…we can’t say the title on the radio.

The show is called Angry Fags, and speaking to WABE’s Myke Johns, the playwright explained that he did not title the show as he did to be a provocateur. 

“Alright, first of all, if the word offends you, tell your thirteen-year-old to stop using it,” he says. “Go on Twitter, go on Instagram, go on Facebook, your kids are using that word. And I was the thirteen-year-old fat kid that they were using it against. It deliberately marginalizes either gay individuals or people who are perceived as being gay. But moreover, it’s a word that’s used to describe someone who is weak.”

And weak versus strong is at the heart of the story, which centers on Bennett Riggs, played by Jacob York, and Cooper Harlow, played by Johnny Drago — two best friends and roommates. One night, a mutual friend is attacked in the parking lot of a gay bar and after a police investigation, they discover that the assault, which leaves their friend in a coma, is not considered a hate crime, “because,” as Payne puts it, “they live in Georgia.”

This sparks a desire to take action, at first on behalf of the friend, but quickly thereafter, on behalf of themselves. And so the two go on a killing spree, targeting those who they feel are particularly oppressive of gay rights.

“The initial choices that they make provide just enough relief to keep them moving either forward or downward, depending on your perspective.” Says Payne. “It’s almost as though they want to adopt the tactics of the Black Panthers, and end up starting to follow the rhythms and choices of a modern extremist group like the Taliban.”

“We attach such a sense of ‘other,’ of ‘how on earth would anybody ever get to that choice? And I wanted to find a way to explore that.”

The show’s director Justin Anderson says, on keeping these two main characters palatable to audiences, “I think […] we’ve seen them in earlier situations where they are just fine. You can use it as a point of comparison. As the story continues to move, you can say ‘well wait a minute… they weren’t always this way.'”

And as the circumstances of the plot become more and more dire, it would have been easy for the playwright to make this into a morality play. Anderson says Payne allows for equal stage time for all points of view within the story, saying it’s a challenge for the audience to work through and make their own decisions.

This juxtaposition of humor and horror, and the decision to leave the moral of the story entirely up to the audience makes for a high-wire act of sorts. In our current reality of drone strikes, school shootings and a heated debate over the civil rights of gay people versus conservative views on the definition of marriage, the play’s subject matter either courts controversy or provides a dark and humorous springboard for conversations which need to be started, depending on your perspective. At any rate, it is certainly not dull, says Topher Payne.

“It’s not what we’ve come to expect from a night out at the theater. But it’s what we’re supposed to expect.”

Angry Fags at 7 Stages Theater runs from February 21 through March 17. For more information, check the post on Atlanta Planit.