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Evelyn in Purgatory

a Comedy
by Topher Payne

COMPANY : Essential Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
ID# 4320

SHOWING : July 06, 2012 - August 05, 2012



The Essential Theatre presents the winner of our 2012 Essential Playwriting Award, "Evelyn in Purgatory" by Topher Payne.

When a complaint is filed against one of the 70,000 teachers in New York’s public schools, they’re sent to a “Reassignment Center,” one of a series of empty offices in the Department of Education Building. There, they sit and wait for their case to be reviewed. Usually for months. Sometimes for over a year.

A claim of improper behavior by a failing student lands Evelyn Reid in “the rubber room,” where she encounters a group of teachers, some guilty, some not, who have long since lost any hope of returning to a classroom.

Over the course of the school year, these colleagues form an unlikely alliance, reminding each other of forgotten passions, emerging to face life outside in unexpected new directions. They also learn French and workshop a screenplay.

EVELYN IN PURGATORY runs in repertory with our World Premieres of BAT-HAMLET and THE LOCAL. A full schedule can be found at!

Playwright Topher Payne
Director Betty Hart
Production Manager Jennifer Brown
Technical Director Chris Gilstrap
Lighting Designer Harley Gould
Costume Designer Jane Kroessig
Properties Design Kathy Manning
Stage Manager Anna Pages
Sound Design Jon Summers
Evelyn Reid Amanda Cucher
Candace Metzger (US) Taylor Dooley
Fred DiSalvo Rial Ellsworth
Candace Metzger Megan Hayes
Lila Wadkins Jo Howarth
Atwood Josie B. Lawson
Roberta Burke Betty Mitchell
Toby Fleming Jonathan Wierenga
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production


Lies and Secrets
by Dedalus
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Atlanta�s Topher Payne is rapidly building a body of work that should be the envy of any writer anywhere. If I sound like a rabid fan, I�d have to plead guilty. When I walk into a Topher Payne show, I can confidently expect a foray into the human experience that entertains, moves, and, above all, convinces. His particular talent is setting up our expectations about a character or situation or even theme, then find an entertaining and convincingly theatrical way to upend those expectations.

Now, he�s turned his attention to teachers, to public schools, and to the bureaucracy and popular (mis)conceptions that assail the whole educational establishment. Welcome to the purgatory of the New York City Public School Disciplinary Waiting Room. It�s a �Breakfast Club� for the grown-ups.

But first, a soapbox digression.

What is it about the teaching profession that makes it such a lightning rod for (intensely emotional) debate and discussion and remembrance? We all have stories about favorite teachers who inspired us and set us on our life�s paths. And we all have stories about feared teachers who �ruined our lives� while staying in our nightmares throughout adulthood. Teachers� Unions are an easy target for venom-dripped commentary. Public School Bureaucracy has inspired comedians from here to eternity. Teachers can inspire hyperbole from both ends of the spectrum, from those who call it the �most important job in the world� to those who say it�s �not a real job, but a haven for those who can�t do anything.�

I can�t pretend neutrality. I flirted with the teaching profession at a time when no one was hiring teachers (hence my 36-year �temporary� job until something �opened up�). I student-taught high school English at a small-town, mostly rural high school in Central Pennsylvania, and those ten weeks had to be the hardest (and most important) work I ever experienced. So my tendency is to bristle when I hear pundits pontificate about how teachers �don�t work enough� or �have it easy� or, to be blatantly political, �don�t deserve the protection of collective bargaining.�

To put it at its simplest, teachers have an enormous impact on us, for good or ill. And, for those of us that have achieved a minimal level of adulthood, they have an equal impact on our children.

So, now, to open this year�s Essential Theatre summer repertory, the insanely talented Topher Payne has written a marvelously wide (and deep) examination of everything that is good and bad about teachers and the Public School System Five teachers have run afoul of the New York City Public School System Disciplinary Board and cannot return to the classroom until they�ve had their hearing before, well, before the �powers that be.� The problem is that it can take weeks, even months, for any particular case to be heard. So, they sit in a featureless institutional room and wait. When Evelyn Reid joins this little group, she brings a passion for justice and an aversion to inactivity. Faster than you can say �Aging Brat Pack,� the teachers are bickering, discussing books, bickering, falling in love, bickering, and, well �. when all is said and done, waiting for their cases to be heard. One (Betty Mitchell) is there on purpose � she�s nearing retirement and hopes a series of not-so-accidental �senior moments� will let her out of the classroom until her time runs out. Another (Rial Ellsworth) is a sports coach, a bit of a bully, who (too) violently stopped a group of bullies from tormenting a smaller (gentler) classmate. Another (Jon Weirenga) is a first-year teacher who suffered a moment of it�s-too-much-for-me panic. Another (Jo Howarth) is a dedicated Art Teacher feeling the encroaching claws of politically-motivated obsolescence. Then there�s Evelyn herself (Amanda Cucher), accused by a student of being indiscreet with another student � the classic my-teacher-hates-me-so-I�ll-blackmail-her story (perhaps). Rounding out the cast is Megan Hayes, as the room �proctor,� who is dragged into their small circle of situational �friendship.�

I love how these characters are introduced, how they change before our eyes (through an unlayering of truth and falsehood rather than through arbitrary plot contrivances). I love how they surprise, how they make me laugh and move me, how they represent a broad spectrum of teachers and styles and ambitions. There are no villains here (well, there is, but it�s not who you expect). Even the faceless �powers-that-be� are more than the expected bureaucratic villains, as they say things and make decisions that (gasp) sometimes actually make sense.

But what sends this one out of the ball park is its unswerving respect for education and its insistence on giving each character their fair share of humanity. Conflicts are honestly raised and (sometimes) resolved. Attachments and resentments are real. Eccentricities aren�t dwelled on, but seeming afterthoughts (embellishments?) on fully realized characters. And there is an overwhelming acknowledgement of the true impact these people have on their students, that the best of them have a real affection for their students and a passion for their subjects.

Reed Higgins has designed and built a paralyzingly purgatorial set, a colorless institutional �way station� that looks like every other schoolroom or workroom or waiting room or prison cell ever built. Director Betty Hart has filled it was a vast and glorious array of color and incident and character. And Topher Payne has put words upon the page that have most successfully found their way into the mouths of this marvelous ensemble, words that splatter the cinder block walls with gold and blood and bile and warmth. It�s the perfect storm of the chaos of living thrust into a hopelessly banal order that can never be imposed, but is still strangely comforting.

I loved every minute of �Evelyn in Purgatory,� and I urge you to watch it carefully. It WILL be on the final!

-- Brad Rudy (

Yes! Evelyn hit it out of the park. by uppermiddlebrow
Could not agree more with Daedalus. This play deserves a national airing. It works on every level as a play, which is rare, and it deals with a topic that needs discussion, which is rarer.


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