ROSWELL, Ga. – Topher Payne’s fifth production for the Georgia Ensemble Theatre is an adventure, it’s a comedy and it is about taking control of your life and making your life your own.
That is “Greetings Friend Your Kind Assistance Is Required” in the proverbial nutshell – which perhaps explains why it will get a little nutty from time to time.
Remember those emails that suddenly appear in the Inbox from the son of an African dictator who desperately needed your help to get his millions out of the country?
Payne took that premise and turned it on its head. What if the email turned out to be legitimate? The prince really did need your help? What would you do?
In Payne’s devious mind, when retired schoolteacher Rhonda Charles opens an email in her spam folder with the subject line, “Greetings Friend your kind assistance is required,” the journey of a lifetime begins.
Rhonda, our heroine (Brenda Porter, Artistic Director of Impact Theater Company), sees that this email is somehow different from all the scams she has seen before and decides to dig a little online. She discovers this prince really does need “kind assistance” to win back his country from the nefarious warlord who has deposed him.
“She doesn’t have money to help him but she wants to be helpful, so she decides to fly to Zardelgnia and help him out,” Payne explained. “And this becomes her journey of a lifetime.”
With Rhonda is her new housemate, Marybeth Mulaney (Karen Howell, GET’s “One Slight Hitch”) who has decided to attach herself to this fool’s errand to protect her roommate.
Payne said “Greeting Friends” takes on the tone of those “Road” movies with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. This includes bailing out of an airplane, facing down guerilla fighters and an encounter with a camel that Payne says is simply “must see.”
“Oedipus Rex” it is not.
It is an East-meets-West experience in which the cultures collide but has Rhonda and Marybeth coming out the other side with a new understanding of humanity.
“The play is really learning how to communicate with this completely foreign culture and taking the best ideas from both sides.
“It’s a celebration of what can happen when we actually take a second and listen to people with different ideas,” Payne said.
But in the midst of all of this “Kum Bay Yah” campfire stuff, there is romance, action, fight sequences and some good laughs too, he said.
“It’s an action movie for people over 60.”
GET veteran actor/director Shannon Eubanks is directing this, her fourth Topher Payne play at GET. She also directed “Swell Party,” “The Only Light in Reno” and “Let Nothing You Dismay” previously.
It is obvious she and he have a shared vision for his projects.
“I would call this a comic fable, but that just sounds cute. This all starts when a sweet retired lady whose husband has passed away is trying to decide how to redefine her life. Then she gets one of those emails asking for money,” Eubanks said.
It begins in the United States, but it quickly goes to this mystical foreign country in the remote regions of Mongolia and Kazakhstan. This lady and her new roommate she took on to share expenses have stepped out of the world they knew and stepped into a place completely different.
Of course they find everything in the prince’s letter is absolutely true, so in the tradition of Ryder Haggard and Robert Louis Stevenson, they decide to rescue the prince.
“They discover that with their combined skill sets as a retired human resources director and a retired school teacher they actually can mount a successful counterinsurgency,” Eubanks said.
Eubanks was drawn to Payne’s play as soon as she read the first draft.
“The thing I loved was it was funny, just like all of Topher’s plays are wonderfully funny. But this has passages that are so beautiful that they stop you and grab you. They are so gorgeous,” she said. “They open your heart up.”
It’s like in Jimmy Stewart’s “It’s a Wonderful Life,” she said. It reminds us of the essential wonderfulness of life.
“But like all Topher’s plays, terribly funny.”
“Greetings Friend” also deals with that third act in life, Payne said. The first two acts of life you are beholden to other people. You’re shaped by your parents, your teachers, your minister. In your second act you are in service to other people. You have a family of your own and are responsible to a spouse, children and a career.
“But the third section in life, that should be just for you,” Payne said. “I don’t see many stories that tell, that really celebrate, the excitement and possibility of that third act of your life.
“So we wanted to tell that story in the biggest, splashiest, silliest way we possibly could. What a way to start the New Year – with joy, adventure and possibility,” he said.