Swell Party’ serves fizzy cocktail of comedy, drama and murder

Georgia Ensemble Theatre’s new play juggles screwball comedy, Southern Gothic psychodrama and Agatha-Christie-style whodunit.


The title of Topher Payne’s Swell Party immediately evokes Cole Porter’s silly, swinging number “Well, Did You Evah!” with its recurring exclamations “What a swell party this is!” With the play’s seemingly light-hearted premise - an aristocratic aviator elopes with a brassy Broadway showgirl, throwing his starchy Southern family into a tizzy - Swell Party initially sounds like a Jazz Era romp worthy of Noel Coward or P.G. Wodehouse.

Swell Party puts in place the elements of screwball comedy but adds considerably more than that. Payne draws inspiration from the real-life mystery surrounding the death of aviator Zachary Smith Reynolds, son of the founder of the R.J. Reynolds tobacco fortune. Swell Party also provides a mash-up of Tennessee Williams-style Southern Gothic and drawing-room whodunit worthy of Agatha Christie. Director Shannon Eubanks guides an effervescent cast between the overlapping genres, as Payne’s skillfully constructed play almost gives its audience too much to digest.