By: Sandi Durell
Topher Payne’s debut dramedy, Perfect Arrangement, gives insight into the Lavender Scare during the 1950s McCarthy era of witch-hunts for those who might be a security risk within the Federal government – in other words – sexual deviants were targeted, dismissed, jailed . . . lives torn apart and ruined for decades.
This is a well-written sitcom with a lot of laughs about a very serious topic, under the fast paced direction of Michael Barakiva, that is running at Primary Stages at the Duke on 42nd Street, with a first-rate cast.
In Neil Patel’s well designed 50s living room, there’s a cocktail party in progress, accessorized with cocktail glasses and little Hawaiian umbrellas, and hosted by Bob Martindale (a commanding Robert Eli) who has a hefty job heading the Personnel Security Board at the Dept. of State in D.C., and his wife Millie (a seemingly typical housewife who likes to write poetry, Mikaela Feely-Lehmann), also including their next door neighbor friends, Bob’s secretary Norma Baxter (a tough Julia Coffey) and her husband Jim, a teacher (a well built Christopher J. Hanke), as Bob and Millie entertain Bob’s boss Ted Sunderson (a well cast Kevin O’Rourke) and his ditzy, running at the mouth wife Kitty (Jennifer Van Dyck). Only it’s all a facade to cover up the fact that Bob and Jim are lovers, as are Millie and Norma. It seems like a perfect arrangement until Mr. Sunderson tells Bob it’s his job to unearth the homosexuals from the State Dept.
What ensues are a series of laugh out loud scenes as Kitty, hungry for a friend, decides Millie would make a great companion to go to the nail salon, shop with and do other girlie things that kept women busy, like talk recipes, hats and gossip. But the plight of the two couples to keep their secret becomes more and more complex when Barbara Grant (a sensational Kelly McAndrew), a translator in the Department with the reputation of a whore, is recalled from abroad, becoming the next deviant target. However, Ms. Grant, also a bisexual, soon recognizes Millie, with whom she had an affair back in college days when Millie was a student and she a professor – – this a hysterically funny scene for Feely-Lehmann as she loses her cool.
The men live next door and their escape route from the girls’ apartment is through a hidden door in the hall closet that becomes a turn-style of in and out of the closet! You never know when Kitty or Barbara will pounce through the front door.
The women are wonderfully costumed in taffeta dresses with big crinolines, all in sumptuous colors, lovely little suits and hats, and heeled shoes, well thought out and designed by Jennifer Caprio. It all makes for a sweet portrait of what some considered kinder, gentler times as Bob and Jim attempt to become manly and take control of their wives and their lives as their ruse begins to crumble and the heartbreak of a new reality hits hard.
Perfect Arrangement runs thru November 6th – www.primarystages.org
*Note that this will be the last production at the Duke on 42nd Street. Future productions will take place at the Cherry Lane Theatre.