It turns out this arrangement is anything but perfect, though Topher Payne’s award winning script delivers humor and pathos in one wild wallop. This 1950s period piece takes us on a fierce ride of rotating faux households kept by a lipstick lesbian couple and a gay male couple. It is Ricky and Lucy and Fred and Ethel laughs until the Red Scare of McCarthy-ism forces a witch hunt for deviants, perverts and other security risks in the U.S. State Department where two of them risk exposure.
Perfect Arrangement — a Pride Films & Plays Storefront Gem
The ensemble of actors in this jewel scarcely contains a false note. The set and costuming easily transport to the days when women wore full-skirted dresses with crinoline linings while men wore high-waisted suit trousers with sharp creases. Bob and Norma are prototype State Department employees. Bob’s beard wife, Millie, allows him to enjoy his lover Jim. Norma’s beard husband, Jim, allows her to enjoy her true love, Millie. Their adjoining apartments, connected by the metaphorical closet door allow just-in-time exits when the boss and his wife come calling.
The comedy is delivered in an endless round of adroit verbal bait and switch maneuvers master-minded by stay-at-home-wife, Millie, played by Riley Mondragon. Millie keeps the household appearing spotlessly heterosexual. The boss’ wife, Kitty Sunderson, grows increasingly enamored with the wife of her husband’s employee, judging her to be the perfect friend for opera, manicures and hat shopping. Kitty is a couple sandwiches short of a picnic and is easily foiled. Not so for Mr. Sanderson, who invites the witch-hunt for homosexuals. It will be another 15 years before gay is used readily over the preferred faggot that rolls off Sanderson’s tongue without a second thought.
Enter the Woman Not to be Crossed
Barbara Grant, played by Kelli Harrington, is twenty years ahead of her time. A crafty lesbian whose private life has hitherto flown under the radar, Barbara’s job is now on the line. We get the pleasure of watching a strong woman embark on the fight of her life; for her professional reputation and eventually her integrity. This is where the script turns from farce to fight — from smoke and mirrors to truth-telling with the stops pulled out.
Bob, played by Eric Lindahl is the handsome, Brylcreem heart throb love of Jim’s life. His slick-backed hair and broad-shouldered swagger belie the question he is immersed in. Can he maintain the ruse of a heterosexual marriage, keep his job, his lover and his integrity? Desperate times call for desperate measures. This man is the lynch pin in the scheme that controls the foursome’s destiny.
Slamming Doors and White Lies
It is mildly ironic that Perfect Arrangement bears a strong resemblance to the classic French bedroom farce of false identities and improbable lies a la La Cage aux Folles. We expect to see slamming doors and hear tall tales crafted for the naïve. This play takes the genre up a notch, however. The stakes are high for these four winsome adults who want to live life openly, love who they love and dare to aspire to the same status as the heterosexual elite of the 50’s era.
When the laughs have been had, Mr. Payne’s script turns the page toward the pathos of the very human pain that came with hard choices commonplace in the 1950’s. There is truth-telling and a stand for authenticity that is expertly woven into the tale. For those who enjoy good laughs and a tug at the heart strings, Perfect Arrangement delivers a tale from the barely receding history of pre-Stonewall America, lest we forget from whence we came.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago.
September 21-October 22, 2017
Thursday-Saturday @ 7:30PM
Sunday @ 3:00PM
Wednesday, October 18 @ 7:30PM
The Broadway, Pride Arts Center
4139 N. Broadway
About the Author:
Stephen B. Starr is Principal of Stephen B. Starr Design, Inc., a design and communication consultancy in Evanston, IL. Stephen is a former president of the Chicago Creative Coalition, organizer for the Chicago Weekly Sitting Meditation Group and founder and organizer of the Chicago Web Professionals. Stephen is nurtured creatively by the fine art of story-telling — especially in the theater. As a college journalism major, he has since followed the siren’s call of poetry and short story writing in his free time. He is interested in the wisdom of indigenous spiritual traditions and seeks inspiration in natural settings by gardening, camping, hiking and biking.