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the only light in reno

a PLAY in two acts

4 f / 1 m

Reno, Nevada. August, 1960.  It is 106 degrees outside. 

Filming on The Misfits is so hopelessly behind schedule that the producers refuse to release Marilyn Monroe to attend the Hollywood opening of her latest film. So Hollywood is coming to Marilyn, and Reno is getting its first movie premiere. 

Elizabeth Taylor has been living in Las Vegas exile since her marriage to Eddie Fisher rocked the scandal sheets, and has been sent to Reno to walk the red carpet at Marilyn's movie. Montgomery Clift is fighting whisper campaigns of his own, and a glamorous glittering event escorting the two most desired women in the world is just what his image needs. 

And then the Sierra Mountains catch fire, grounding flights and blocking all roads in and out of the city. Reno loses power. Paula Strasberg has the generator from the film set brought to the Mapes Hotel, giving Marilyn the only electricity in town, and setting the stage for the strangest slumber party in cinematic history.

This is the untold story of when Hollywood came to the Biggest Little City in the World... for a movie premiere that never happened.

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“Payne has a remarkable talent for taking a few threads of historical fact and weaving them into something wholly original and entertaining. He dispenses pithy, Coward-style one-liners with aplomb, while investing these larger-than-life personalities with complex emotional interiors. Thus, for all its giddy glamour, The Only Light in Reno appears to be a study of personal pain and public sting.” 



“The drama sets the stage for diva standoff worthy of a tabloid sensation. Only it doesn’t create one. Instead, Payne has crafted an intense character study that examines the lives of four women and the man who is link between them all...With its sharp quips, fast-paced dialogue and emotional depth, The Only Light in Reno taps into our fascination with Hollywood’s golden era.”



“If it hadn’t really happened, playwright Topher Payne almost certainly would have made it up: the match of writer to outrageous subject is so deliciously fitting. Payne imagines what might have transpired during that long, hot night when these enormous personalities were stuck in a ninth-floor suite at the Mapes Hotel during a Sierra Mountain wildfire with little to do but drink, pop pills, wear glamorous clothes, bare their souls and insult each other with cuttingly witty zingers. Clearly, Reno is Topher-country.”


Georgia Ensemble Theatre

Roswell, Georgia

World Premiere, 2014

The Only Light in Reno at Out of Box Theatre
Out of Box Theatre

Marietta, Georgia


  2014 Suzi Bass Awards  

Nominee, Gene-Gabriel Moore Playwriting Award

Nominee, Outstanding Featured Actress, Kate Donadio MacQueen (Elizabeth Taylor)

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