Special to the Village News
The West Coast premiere of “Perfect Arrangement” by Topher Payne opened to a full house at the Horton Grand Theatre in downtown San Diego on Feb. 11.
Set in Washington D.C, at the height of McCarthyism, “Perfect Arrangement” is a play about factual happenings implemented by the government at a time when investigations were conducted within the U.S. State Department in the 1950s.
What is now often referred to as a witch hunt, at that time was a direct order given to root out and remove from government service anyone whose background might be subject to blackmail because it could or might lead to revealing state secrets to the Communists.
Primarily targeted were persons in highly-sensitive positions who were considered “security risks.” Therefore, it was deemed necessary to un-employee 91 people thought to be “in the shady category, (though) mostly homosexuals.”
There are two distinct sides to the deception in “Perfect Arrangement”. First, the audience observes a stereotypical 1950’s cocktail party hosted by Millie (Laura Bohlin) and Bob Martindale (John DeCarlo) – the idyllic couple. Bohlin plays the demure Donna Reed homemaker and adoring wife to DeCarlo’s chivalrous, debonair man of action.
During a confidential moment at the cocktail party Martindale’s boss, Theodore Sanderson (Tom Stephenson), secretly instructs him of his new assignment, which empowers Martindale to “dismiss any employee at his ‘absolute discretion’ to promote public security.”
The order, although primarily directed toward “gays and sexual deviates,” also includes anyone who might offer a security risk, like the language interpreter and office-light-skirt Barbara Grant.
Sanderson’s wife Kitty (Cynthia Gerber) is ditsy and delightful in hat and gloves. She is the perfect juxtaposition to her take-charge, egotistical husband. The cocktail party is rounded out with good friends and next door neighbors – teacher Jim Baxter (Joshua Jones) and his wife, Norma (Jennifer Paredes), Martindale’s secretary.
Jones presents a solid performance as Norma’s husband, displaying affection and caring toward his wife who demonstrates, without pause, her devotion to husband, job and country.
Once Sanderson departs, the audience is enlightened to the second half of the deception.
We get a look back from the inside of the mirror. It turns out that both marriages are a ruse as neither pair is a heterosexual couple. Instead, the women love each other as do the men. They only appear to be married to protect their identities.
The dawning of the deceptions becomes real when they voice their concerns to being the sexual deviates as described by the dictates of the government and will lose their jobs when discovered.
To add to the confusion through misdirection, the couples actually go through the “closet” – albeit the coat closet – to enter and exit into the neighboring apartment. It is this very entryway which has allowed their secret to remain safe for the past four years.
However, the scam is up when Barbara Grant (Brooke McCormick), being concerned about losing her job, pops by to see Martindale and discovers her ex-lover is actually his wife. McCormick is striking in appearance and exudes bitterness with every breath.
Sprinkled throughout with humor, Christy Yael-Cox directed this cast through a myriad of situations which are still relevant today. Supported by assistant director Daren Scott, the message was driven home to support diversity and to be tolerant.
Sean Yael-Cox is responsible for props, technical direction and the set design, which is like a 1950 time capsule pulling the audience into the plot. Costumes including pearls, hats, gloves and heels – reminiscent of the era – were designed by Jeanne Reith and were enhanced by the excellent lighting designed by Karin Filijan.
“Perfect Arrangement” is playing at the Horton Grand Theatre at 444 4th Ave. in downtown San Diego. There is free street parking or paid parking across from the theatre. The show is a presentation of Intrepid Theatre and will run until March 12.
Performance times are Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays 8 p.m., Saturdays 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. For tickets, visit www.IntrepidTheatre.org or call the Box Office at (760) 295-7541.