For those who lived through the 1950s in America, few can forget the witch hunt that was Wisconsin Republican U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy’s search to uncover Communists in our midst. His position was that these “subversives” were a threat to our society who were determined to take over government and thereafter change our very way of life.
The hysteria that was McCarthy’s quest started in government, but at its zenith the hunt to find the Red Menace had expanded exponentially outward to artists, writers, and regular folks alike. No one was safe from McCarthy’s scrutiny. Those branded as Communists during the “Red Scare” lost everything — their jobs, their income, friends and family. At its peak, McCarthy reigned as the judge and jury and fear consumed the nation.
It is within this powerful framework that Topher Payne sets his award-winning play, Perfect Arrangement, now playing at Raleigh Little Theatre. The story follows the lives of Bob (Paul James), Millie (Lauren Knott), Jim (Benoit Sabourin), and Norma (Amelia Sciandra). They are all homosexuals who have married each others’ partners in order to appear to the public as two straight couples, all the while enjoying their true gay partners behind closed doors.
The couples live in adjoining Georgetown townhomes and move easily through a secret door built into their coat closet. Tongue planted firmly in cheek, each time they come through the door, they are literally coming out of the closet!
Bob and Norma both work for the government, and they have been tasked by their boss Ted (Jim O’Brien) to expand the search for Communists to homosexuals, who have now also been deemed a risk to the country’s stability. To the government, since homosexuals are deviant, they are at risk to be blackmailed into giving up state secrets.
The couples are barely holding it together. Matters only get worse when Ted’s wife, Kitty, takes a shining to Millie and enters their social circle, forcing the couples to keep up their guard for fear of tipping her off about their true relationships.
Melanie Simmons’ ditzy Kitty is the perfect counterbalance for the drama, and her airheaded ways brought many smiles and giggles our way. Simmons’ Kitty was a needed relief from the difficulties of the other couples, and her spontaneous entrances created lighthearted chaos in the private lives of the others. However, don’t get the impression that this is terribly heavy fare.
Even though Perfect Arrangement asks the RLT audience to consider important questions, it uses humor and quick-witted dialog to move the story along and to keep the plot from becoming overwhelming. Ultimately, these unfortunates must decide whether maintaining the façade of domestic bliss is worth the high price of living a life that is a lie.
Scenic designer Jeannine Borzello gets props for bringing to life the midcentury modern feel of 1950s Washington, DC. Jenny Mitchell and Alison Lawrence, too, get a mention for the perky housedresses and bouffant hairdos of the 1950s that gave flavor to the characters.
This is truly what a play should be. Thought provoking, but with loads of laughs, this terrific show strikes the perfect balance between harsh social criticism and comedy. A difficult feat indeed. It is no wonder that the American Theatre Critics Association awarded Perfect Arrangement the prize for the Best Play for an Emerging Playwright of 2014.
Although set in the 1950s, this drama underscores the fact that even though it is 2017, we are still struggling as a nation with fear of those who are different than we are. Be it immigrants, transgender individuals, people of color, homosexuals, or anyone who has felt the sting of discrimination, the themes in this play are universal. And as the characters struggle to decide whether to continue the charade or to stand up and join the fight, we understand that this is still a struggle for many even today.
Like any fight to change the world, the play makes us take a moment to appreciate the battle scars and losses of those who had the courage to take a stand in years gone by. Kudos to RLT artistic director Patrick Torres for bringing this thought-provoking play to the stage.
SECOND OPINION: Nov. 2nd Durham, NC Indy Week review by Byron Woods (who awarded the show 4 of 5 stars): https://www.indyweek.com/arts/archives/2017/11/02/theater-review-the-lavender-scare-is-brought-to-life-with-suspense-and-nuance-in-perfect-arrangement and Oct. 25th mini-preview by Byron Woods: https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/perfect-arrangement/Event?oid=8868710; Oct. 28th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Roy C. Dicks http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=8690; Oct. 24th Chapel Hill, NC WUNC/91.5 FM interview with <The Lavender Scare producer and director Josh Howard, playwright Topher Payne, and RLT actors Benoit Sabourin and Lauren Knott, conducted by Frank Stasio for “The State of Things”: http://wunc.org/post/government-scare-they-don-t-teach-history-class; and Sept. 29th Raleigh, NC News & Observer mini-preview by Roy C. Dicks http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article176145851.html.
Raleigh Little Theatre presents PERFECT ARRANGEMENT at 8 p.m. Nov. 2-4, 3 p.m. Nov. 5, 8 p.m. Nov. 9-11, and 3 p.m. Nov. 12 in its Cantey V. Sutton Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.
TICKETS: $25 ($21 students and seniors 62+).
BOX OFFICE: 919-821-3111 or https://raleighlittletheatre.secure.force.com/ticket/#details_a0Sd000000jM98tEAC.
PRESENTER: http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/, https://www.facebook.com/RaleighLittleTheatre, https://twitter.com/RLT1936, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raleigh_Little_Theatre, and http://www.youtube.com/user/raleighlittletheatre.
NOTE 3: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 5th, performance.
Perfect Arrangement (2015 Off-Broadway Comedy): http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/60175/perfect-arrangement (Samuel French, Inc.) and http://www.lortel.org/Archives/Production/6076 (Internet Off-Broadway Database).
Topher Payne (Kosciusko, MS-born Atlanta, GA-based playwright and screenwriter): http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/46640 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2438571/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/HelloTopher/ (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/topherpayne (Twitter page), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Topher_Payne (Wikipedia).
Patrick Torres (director and RLT artistic director): https://raleighlittletheatre.org/people/patrick-torres/ (RLT bio) and https://www.facebook.com/patrick.torres.585 (Facebook page).
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Click here to read her reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.