In its tenth anniversary, CulturalDC’s Source Festival has chosen to revisit one of its previous hits to celebrate, and has made the prime choice of Perfect Arrangement for this honor. It’s a for-sure laugh-riot, this 1950’s-set sitcom for the stage, and it has the cleverest of premises: Two gay men and two lesbian women hiding their sexuality by marrying the men to the women. These two couples switch rowhouses at night, after putting on their spit-shine Leave It To Beaver facades all day, by traveling, literally, through the closet – and there you can see the winking humor of playwright Topher Payne.
But this is not merely an exercise in Noël Coward-esque farce with a gay touch. The twist that takes this play in a more emotionally cutting and incendiary direction is that one of the men works for the State Department, and has been charged with expelling homosexuals and other ‘deviants’ as part of the McCarthy-era witch hunts. As the author points out in a note, this setting makes the play all too relevant today: the page on the State Department website that officially apologized for the ‘Lavender Scare’ was taken down when the Trump administration moved in.
Perfect Arrangement was a hit the first time around in 2013 and deserves to be one just as much or more now. The all-new cast is agile and on point. The two couples (Jon Reynolds and Jack Novak, Danielle Scott and Mary Myers) nail the 1950’s TV-speak when their characters wear their social masks, and shift seamlessly into more recognizable expression when the layers peel back.
They’re aided by Jennifer Pagnard, as the older, easily-confused society woman, letting us see the hidden depths without compromising her comic position. Kevin McGuinness portrays her husband, a State Department boss with no sympathy for homosexuals but a soft spot for his star employee (Reynolds). He manages to make a character who could have easily been played as a nasty villain in our theoretically more enlightened era come off as a human being. The whip-smart ensemble is rounded out by Toni Rae Salmi as an independent woman targeted by the purge of ‘deviants’ for her unabashed affairs with many Washingtonian men.
closes July 2, 2017
Details and tickets
Even in an audience of only nine people on the Sunday I saw it (the size most likely limited by Pride Weekend activities), the production offered many raucous, laugh-out-loud bits. It would surely rock a full house at Source just as well a theater the size of the Lansburgh. This quality is attributable to Nick Martin’s unfussy and nimble direction, giving each actor the physical and mental space to deliver their jokes and arguments in ideal clarity. The near-perfect Perfect Arrangement is rounded out with the snappy song selections of sound designer Veronica Lancaster and snazzy hats of costumer Frank Labovitz.
I say near-perfect for, though the play is 100% engaging as it builds from a bouncy comedy towards a fierce challenge to assimilationists, the politics (righteous though they may be) get in the way of the plot as the play goes on. There’s too light a touch in the early going to set the groundwork for certain reveals later on, giving those revelations an awkward fit with the actors’ fine performances. And Payne’s voice overtakes some of his characters towards the end, as their words seem too obviously directed towards modern ears. These are slight sins, but distracting ones, in an otherwise aptly titled two hours of theatre.
Perfect Arrangement by Topher Payne . Directed by Nick Martin . Featuring Kevin McGuinness, Mary Myers, Jack Novak, Jennifer Pagnard, Jon Reynolds, Toni Rae Salmi, Danielle Scott . Set Designer: Jessica Cancino . Costume Designer: Frank Labovitz . Props Designer: Ali Bozzonetti . Lighting Designer: E-hui Woo . Sound Designer: Veronica Lancaster . Stage Manager: Laura Wood . Assistant Stage Manager: Sam Rollin . Produced by the Source Festival. Reviewed by Brett Steven Abelman.