TR Robertson….Intrepid Theatre Company’s latest play, “Perfect Arrangement, currently on stage at the Horton Grand Theatre in San Diego’s Gaslamp District, takes place in the 1950’s, but could just as easily have taken place in the 2000’s. Topher Payne’s comedy, touches on a variety of social issues, dominating the 1950’s by the Lavender Scare, which shortly followed the Red Scare of the McCarthy Era. The Red Scare sought to ferret out suspected Communist sympathizers in all parts of society, especially in government agencies. Senator Joseph McCarthy stirred up Americans in a speech he made in Virginia, in February of 1950, accusing some 205 Americans working in the State Department as “card-carrying Communists”. This would lead other members of the government to state that other people should be considered security risks and some 91 people would be deemed “in the shady category, mostly homosexuals”. Congress launched an investigation into what they considered a problem with the “infiltration of sexual perverts” in the government. Over the following years some 4,380 gay men and women would be discharged from their government positions, released as security risks. This would become known as the Lavender Scare. Up until a few weeks ago, no formal apology has ever been stated for this action, when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry issued an official apology for the State Department’s discrimination against gay employees. It wasn’t until 2011 that President Obama rescinded President Clinton’s Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited same-sex marriage, and the 2013 Supreme Court Decision striking down DOMA. Change is a slow process, as shown in Payne’s play.
On the surface this play is a comedy, at times feeling as if we are watching an old 50’s sitcom, but this play is so much more. The set-up of the play finds two couples, married, but involved in same-sex relationships with each other’s spouses. To make things more convenient, they live next to one another and their apartments are connected by a closet concealing a passageway between the apartments. To make things more interesting, Bob, married to Millie, works for the State Department in Washington, D.C., and Norma, married to Jim, is Bob’s Secretary. Their jobs up, to this time, has been to look for suspected Communist sympathizers. But things are about to change as Bob’s boss, Theodore Sunderson, wants them to now look for homosexuals in governmental agencies. Bob, Norma, Millie and Jim all are loyal Americans, hard-working members of society and just want to live their lives without fear of recrimination from fear mongers. Their perfect arrangement will come under fire when Millie runs into a former lover, her teacher from her past, who is also under scrutiny by the State Department for “perversion”. The battle begins between the four friends around loyalty between country and family, coming out or staying in seclusion concerning their situation, taking a stand and risking losing the life they now have or finding a way to deal with the restrictions around them, and an understanding that there is no perfect arrangement.
The four lead actors and actresses in this play are all making their debut with the Intrepid Theatre Company. Laura Bohlin plays Millie Martindale, caught between living her comfortable life and seeing the need for change. Ms. Bohlin has performed in numerous local productions. Playing husband Bob is John DeCarlo. Bob is a bit more conservative, not wanting to rock the boat and willing to carry out his job in order to keep his personal life a secret. Jennifer Paredes plays Norma Baxter, and also has a number of San Diego stage credits. Norma is more emotional and sees the need for taking a stand and fighting for what she believes is right. Playing husband Jim is Joshua Jones. Jim seems to have a hard time deciding exactly how much risk he should take in keeping things status quo with the group or taking a stand as well. Each of these actors and actresses handled the quick pace of the play, the comedic flow and the shift into the more serious tones the closing scenes bring with ease. Along with this the gruff, bigoted boss Theodore Sunderson was handled effectively by veteran actor Tom Stephenson and his over the top, goofy wife Kitty was a crowd favorite, played by another veteran actress, Cynthia Gerber. Brooke McCormick played Barbara Grant, a member of the State Department who has been caught-up in the purge of “perverts” in government.
Director and Producing Artistic Director Christy Yael-Cox has created on stage a look back into the past of the 50’s when this simple life was not so simple. Christy Yael-Cox has created on stage, with her cast, the emotions and feelings that would come to a head through the 50’s into the 60’s and still be a part of our life today. There is also a reference to today’s immigration and naturalization issues showing our social problems cover many parts of society. Ms. Yael-Cox directed the artistically successful “Art” and received the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Direction and Dramatic Production for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”. Providing a classic 50’s living room set was Scenic Designer Sean Yael-Cox and Costume Designer Jeanne Reith provided an array of 50’s style costumes.
Appropriately, as this production is being staged, a new television four part mini-series will soon be shown, “When We Rise”, which chronicles the 50 year struggle of the LGBT community and their fight with the political system, the evolution of the movement and the on-going struggle for change. As the final song to “Perfect Arrangement” begins when the play ends, the lyrics remind us that “a change is gonna come”, regardless of how long it takes.
The 250 seat Horton Grand Theatre and the Intrepid Theatre Company will present “Perfect Arrangement” until March 12, Thursdays thru Sundays. Horton Grand Theatre is located at 444 Fourth Avenue.
Tickets are available at www.IntrepidTheatre.org or call 888-718-4253.
Next up at Horton Grand Theatre is “Buddy: Buddy Holly Story” in May.