And then Payne lost his driver’s license.
The worst thing about losing your driver’s license, really, is that you have to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles. The DMV is where happiness goes to be obliterated; it’s like the Dementor of places. This was especially true for Payne, who tried to use his marriage license as one of the two required forms of identification.
“I thought, okay, it’s not legally identified as a marriage, but it’s still a government document,” he said. The DMV’s reply: Thanks, but no thanks! We don’t take gay marriage licenses here. “Even at the DMV, I’m not married.”
“It was just feeling like you’re banging your head against the wall, and something that seems so sensible to you [is] simply not part of the vocabulary for another group of people that, unfortunately, gets to make the rules. And that’s what lit the fire under the script that it really needed: giving it a personal investment.”
Payne said he considered himself “really well versed” in gay history but quickly discovered, as he did his dramaturgical digging, that “everything I knew about the gay American experience was post-Stonewall,” starting in 1969. “There were so many stories lost of the early-20th-century gay American experience because the people experiencing it didn’t live to a time when they could actually tell their stories freely,” said Payne, who described his process as more of an “investigation” than traditional research, given the amount of sleuthing it required.
“I came out, hopefully, a little bit smarter and with a much greater appreciation for how dedicated you had to be to the person you knew you were supposed to be, during a period of time when being gay was still classified as a mental illness,” he said.
“Perfect Arrangement” takes place in Georgetown during the 1950s and is full of that “I Love Lucy” slang; one character insults another with the slur of “grand high poobah.” But “what’s been so fortuitous in the timing of the production of ‘Perfect Arrangement,’ happening in D.C., telling a story about D.C., is how shockingly aligned it is with the experiences we’re having 60 years later,” said Payne.
The timing was a coincidence, said Jenny McConnell Frederick, producer of CulturalDC’s Source Festival. “Perfect Arrangement” was selected last December, before the date of the Supreme Court ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act had been set. Tickets had been selling well before the ruling — “We were at 96 percent capacity of our 104-seat house,” said Frederick — and after the same-sex marriage ruling, three more performances were added to meet ticket demand.