Closet of Secrets: PTD Productions' "Perfect Arrangement" opens the door to address homophobia in 1950s America
Would you be willing to hide who you are in exchange for being more accepted by society? Or would the lies and facade crush you?
Perfect Arrangement, written by Topher Payne and set in the 1950s, follows two married couples that are trying to live the life they want while showing the world the life that is expected and accepted. PTD Productions is staging the play at Riverside Arts Center in Ypsilanti.
Bob Martindale (Gary Lehman) is a government employee who works in a unit to find communist sympathizers hiding within the U.S. government. His wife, Millie (Rebecca Lane), is a homemaker and poetry writer. They are best friends with the couple that lives next door, the Baxters, but everything is not as it seems.
Norma Baxter (Skye Earl) works as Bob’s secretary for the government unit and has to deal with all the accusations and confidential files that come across his desk. Her husband, Jimmy Baxter (Andrew Packard), is a school teacher. Both couples seem happy and in love but we quickly learn that it is all a hoax. Bob and Jimmy are the ones who are together and madly in love, as are Millie and Norma. They have created this elaborate scheme to protect themselves from society’s extreme scrutiny and fear of homosexuality.
It might seem like this arrangement is drastic, but Norma and Bob find themselves in danger at work when they are told to sniff out any employees that could make the government look bad. This includes any “loose women,” deviants, and anyone thought to be a homosexual. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, they must fire their gay coworkers while still pretending not to be like them to keep their own jobs.
Things were going relatively smoothly until Barbara Grant (Karrie Waarala), a translator for the government, comes into the picture. Known for her flirty ways and sleeping with numerous men at the agency, her job is on the line, but she refuses to go down gently. She threatens to blow up the elaborate lie of the two couples when she recognizes Millie. Turns out, while studying abroad in Canada several years ago, Millie had a love affair with a poetry teacher: Barbara.
Can the couples keep the lie going? Will they be found out? Or will they out themselves so they can finally live their truths?
Director Jacob Williams-Justin leads a great cast of PTD veterans and newcomers. Lane and Earl have excellent chemistry as the forbidden lesbian lovers and Lehman and Packard are a playful pair. There’s also Jerry Doty as the presidential-like Mr. Sunderson, who is Bob and Norma’s boss at the government agency.
Beth Duey plays Mr. Sunderson’s wife, Kitty, and adds hilarious commentary and comedic moments to the show. Waarala is a knockout as Barbara and exudes confidence on the stage.
The biggest round of applause goes to set designer Laura Bird. The all-grayscale set (and props!) immediately sets the tone for the show and transports us back to a 1950s TV set. The door conjoining the two houses is a coat closet, which is hilarious given the context of the show. Whether noted in the script or not, having the secretly gay characters make their entrances by "coming out of the closet" is brilliant.
The set elevated the whole production and took this show to the next level, which is already stellar with such a well-connected cast.
Perfect Arrangement is a beautifully done think-piece that is still relevant to today’s issues surrounding the LGBTQ+ community.
Marley Boone is a theater professional who has been in the industry since 2015. While living in Philadelphia, she wrote theater reviews for DC Metro Arts.
“Perfect Arrangement” by PTD Productions runs August 17-26 at the Riverside Arts Center, 76 N. Huron Street, Ypsilanti. More information and tickets can be found ptdproductions.com.