REVIEW: Pride Films and Plays’ ‘Perfect Arrangement’ a polished tale of private lives
By PHILIP POTEMPA
Early on in Topher Payne‘s clever stage comedy “Perfect Arrangement,“ the four central characters, who share love-crossed relationships, face an important realization: there is a difference in having a private live, and what is defined as a secret life.
As carefully directed and fine-tuned by Pride Films and Plays‘ Associate Artistic Director Derek Van Barham, there is an ideal balance achieved blending parody with possibility in this new Chicago premiere run of “Perfect Arrangement” playing now through Oct. 22 at Pride Arts Center, 4139 N. Broadway in Chicago.
Set in 1950, in addition to the fear tactics surrounding the threat of communism during the time of “the Red Scare,” anyone rumored to be homosexual found themselves also on the target list of J. Edgar Hoover‘s FBI files and investigations. At the time, men were more likely to be under a microscope rather than women.
In “Perfect Arrangement,” which premiered Off-Broadway by Primary Stages in 2015, two U.S. State Department employees, Bob and Norma, spend their days combing through reports and making files for those persons identified as sexual deviants, communists or anyone thought to be abnormal or undesirable, including those within their own work hallways. Bob and Norma, the same pair helping to “point the finger,” are also secretly gay, and live with arranged marriage spouses conveniently in next door apartments in Georgetown. Once the blinds are pulled, the two couple are able to swap, to live their chosen same-sex unions without prying eyes.
The talented seven-person cast stars Jeff Award winner Eric Lindahl as Bob. Lindahl succeeds in capturing the closeted confusion his character faces, balancing his professional and personal lives. His co-worker Norma is played by Autumn Teague, who is torn by her duties as both devoted employee pitted against her love and affection for her life partner, Mildred, played with relish by talented Riley Mondragon. Lane Anthony Flores plays wide-eyed teacher and all-around nice guy Jim, the final piece of the puzzle for this frazzled foursome, all feverishly working together to keep up a happily married charade.
The two couples devote much of their time during this two-hour, one intermission play trying to avoid the questions and insinuations that come from Bob and Norma’s straight-laced boss Theodore Sunderson, played by Armando Reyes, and his vapid socialite wife Kitty, played so very entertainingly by Amber Snyder. All concerned must also endure the veiled threats and suspicions of one of Bob and Norma’s colleagues, the caustic Barbara Grant, as so perfectly played by two-time Jeff Award winner Kelli Harrington.
The supporting cast includes Tommy Thurston (u/s Bob & Theodore), Christopher Young (u/s Jim), Kendra Verhage (u/s Millie & Kitty) and Shannon Webber (u/s Norma & Barbara).
Director Van Barham corrals this cast with fine-tuning, and the chemistry shared on stage among the characters is genuine. There’s not only emphasis to the narrow-minded protocol of the time period, but also fun, light-hearted moments, witty wordplay and even clever nods to the popular products advertised during the highlighted decade. (The price of this ticket is worth it just to find out the surprise ingredient Mildred reveals as the guarded kitchen secret for her recipe for Red Velvet Cake.) Most of all, there’s an important message shared throughout the play which comes across loud and clear: there’s a thin line between professional and personal fulfillment and every risk requires sacrifice and chance.
The production team for “Perfect Arrangement” includes Scott Kloosterman as Assistant Director, Jenn Thompson as Stage Manager, G Max Maxin IV as Lighting Designer, Roger Wykes‘ elaborate and luxurious set design paired with Claire Stone‘s imaginative properties design, Kallie Rolison as Sound Designer and Noel Huntzinger‘s dazzling and detailed costume design.
Performances are 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays and a special 7:30 p.m. Wednesday Oct. 18 performance. Ticket prices are $35 for reserved seats and $25 general admission. There are discounts for students and seniors. All performances in The Broadway, Pride Arts Center, 4139 N. Broadway, Chicago. FYI: (800) 737-0984 or www.pridefilmsandplays.com.
Philip Potempa is a veteran journalist and published author. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.