GA Voice - - Out­spo­ken -

Process The­atre opens a new show this week­end cour­tesy of a play­wright who has put them on the map – drag sen­sa­tion Charles Busch. The com­pany has staged his “Die, Mom­mie, Die!,” “Psy­cho Beach Party” and “Vam­pire Les­bians of Sodom” be­fore, so it’s nat­u­ral they would stage his new show “The Trib­ute Artist.” Di­rected by Sue­hyla El-At­tar, the com­edy stars out per­form­ers DeWayne Mor­gan, To­pher Payne and Cathe Hall Payne.

This is the first re­gional pro­duc­tion of the com­edy, fol­low­ing its off-Broad­way run in 2014. “We were ap­par­ently the first ones who asked for it,” says To­pher Payne. It was pro­duced by Pri­mary Stages, the same the­ater that staged Payne’s “Per­fect Ar­range­ment” in the fall. That was how Payne be­came fa­mil­iar with it and he brought it to the at­ten­tion of Mor­gan, Process’s artis­tic di­rec­tor.

“Artist” stars Mor­gan as Jimmy, a fe­male im­per­son­ator that has worked for the last 10 years in a Ve­gas re­view bring­ing fa­mous women such as Bette Davis, Joan Craw­ford and Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe to life. As the show opens he has been fired from his job.

“He is a lit­tle over the hill with it; ev­ery­one wants him to do younger, like Bey­oncé” says Mor­gan.

Even­tu­ally, with an as­sist from his best friend Rita (Payne), Jimmy takes on the iden­tity of his land­lady (Payne) when she passes away in or­der to keep her town­house in Green­wich Vil­lage.

Mor­gan jokes that it didn’t take long to get into char­ac­ter. “He is a lot nicer than me,” he laughs. “He is very naïve and child­like. He trusts ev­ery­body.”

Payne met Busch while he was in New York last fall. “I got to thank him for ev­ery­thing he’s done to keep me work­ing,” laughs Payne.

“Artist” as a com­edy re­tains Busch’s trade­mark sense of hu­mor, ac­cord­ing to Payne. This pro­duc­tion is also one of the few times Busch has writ­ten a role for him­self where he is play­ing a man. The piece cuts deeper.

“The com­edy of this one has a so­cial mes­sage un­der­neath it – re­ally ex­plor­ing gen­der, the face we put out to the world vs. what may be go­ing on in­side. It’s as witty as ever but it’s smart.”

Mor­gan and Payne change it up a bit here from their usual roles. “I get to be the funny best friend in this one,” says Payne. “I am

‘The Trib­ute Artist’

fi­nally get­ting to play the side­kick role. Nor­mally, I am the one front and cen­ter deal­ing with all the prob­lems and DeWayne gets to come in and toss off a few good one-lin­ers. This time we have shifted that dy­namic.”

The two ac­tors have de­vel­oped a sim­i­lar sense of hu­mor af­ter work­ing to­gether for so long. “That’s the in­cred­i­ble gift,” says Payne. “We have been do­ing shows to­gether for 16 years, which is ex­tra­or­di­nary to me. DeWayne has pro­gressed into such amaz­ing nu­anced roles. We can switch back and forth. I think that’s what makes the dy­namic work in ‘De­sign­ing Women’ as the Su­gar­baker sis­ters. Some­times one has the lead story and the other is lend­ing sup­port.”

Both men also love work­ing with Cathe Hall Payne. “The ba­sic set up of the show – a ‘Week­end at Bernies’ in drag – is cen­tered on her char­ac­ter dy­ing. Sue­hyla knew she wanted some­one who could make a strong im­pact on the au­di­ence with a fairly min­i­mal amount of stage time. Cathe could do that.”

The cast of Process The­atre’s ‘Trib­ute Artist’ per­forms April 29 through May 15 in De­catur. (Pub­lic­ity Photo)

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