History never truly fades away. The University Theatre Department’s latest production, “Perfect Arrangement,” opened last night in Murphy Hall and was filled with perfect comedic timing and relevance.
The production takes place in the 1950s during the Lavender Scare, a period briefly following the Red Scare. The U.S. government started targeting people susceptible to blackmail, which often ended up being LGBTQ people.
Somewhere in D.C. lives two families, named the Baxters and the Martindales. Bob Martindale works with the State Department to identify individuals who may be at high risk at revealing government secrets, while Norma Baxter works as his secretary. The secret? Norma Baxter is actually dating Bob Martindale’s wife, Millie, while Bob dates Norma’s husband, Jim. Throughout the production, the audience watches these two couples try to keep their sexuality hidden as they continue their arrangement.
Though confronting a serious topic, the production is primarily a comedy. Throughout the entire first half, the audience laughs at the lengths the Martindales and Baxters go to in order to maintain their façade. Topher Payne, the playwright, wrote a clever script, and the delivery from the cast emphasizes it even more.
Throughout the second half, it becomes more apparent to the audience the gravity of the situation. The potential risk for these characters becomes more clear to the audience by the amount of people being fired from the State Department, all of which will be unable to ever hold a job again.
Although the first half was centered on great comedic timing, the second half focuses on making it real to the audience how traumatic this period in United States history truly was, while still providing levity with good humor. The cast and script explains the difficulty of having to hide your true self and does so thought-provokingly. As a whole, there is no true villain in this play besides homophobia itself.
The costuming was also brilliant. The characters all wore bright colors throughout the show with unique patterns and tulle being utilized on some of the skirts. Overall, the costumes were historically accurate pieces and expanded on the characters’ personalities. For example, Barbara Grant, a character who comes in later in the show, always wears extravagant pieces, whether it being flowery hats or wearing a gown with a wide skirt. The keen eye to detail throughout the production made it easy for the audience to immerse itself in the period.
Even more so, the casts’ strengths showed throughout their blocking and gesticulations. From the beginning, it’s clear that Norma and Millie are more than just close neighbors based off of the way Millie’s eyes consistently glide over to Norma to see her reaction to things. Overall, that’s one of the biggest strengths of the production; those small moments helped build on the characters’ chemistry and help the audience understand the motivations better.
“Perfect Arrangement” accurately tackles an under covered time period in American history and does so with a little bit of humor and thoughtful acting.