Prim, proper, and poised. The characters in Perfect Arrangement embody the ideal 1950’s nuclear family, complete with the white picket fence suburban setting. The men wear suits, the women wear dresses, and the discussions are always polite and socially acceptable. The Red Scare and McCarthyism are in full swing, and state employees Bob and Norma are tasked with outing communists, sexual deviants (read: homosexuals), and all other threats to the American way of life from inside their ranks. This is a bit of a problem: Bob and Norma are both gay and are romantically involved with each other’s spouses (Millie and Jim). The web of lies becomes more and more complex until an old flame arrives and threatens to burn down the entire arrangement.
Perfect Arrangement by Pride Films & Plays is a slapstick comedy with a serious message about balancing the life you want versus the ideals what you believe in. The play does a fantastic job of developing each side of its comedic and dramatic elements by keeping these scenes largely separate; a hilarious scene of Millie spinning a ridiculously complicated lie to a nosey neighbor is immediately followed up by a dramatic monologue touching on the mental impact of living a daily lie. While this sounds like a jarring experience, the transitions between the two tones are a testament to the great writing and directing. The stakes are raised right from the start and the production uses the dramatic irony to deliver comedic beats as well as serious messages about being true to one’s self. I would be belly laughing one moment and then feeling the emotional weight of these characters the next.
In contrast to the solid writing and directing, the acting is a tad inconsistent and feels distinctly amateur. The occasional flubbed line breaks the immersion, and the dramatic range required to land critical moments is not always there. I would feel the righteous anger and frustration of one character’s monologue but lose interest during another’s internal struggle that felt flat. The drama is not without its standout sections – Barbara (played by Kelli Harrington) and Bob’s (played by Eric Lindahl) final monologues are harrowing, ending the production with a bang. What it lacks in dramatic delivery it makes up for in comedic timing and tone – the cast absolutely nails the ‘polite conversation’ scenes where the characters need to be just nice enough to their obnoxious neighbors to be socially acceptable and leverages that to produce immensely funny moments.
I would never think that I could find myself laughing with characters undergoing the very real plights of the LGBTQI+ community in the 1950’s, but Perfect Arrangement walks the line incredibly well. Slapstick comedy paired with smart writing and some powerfully dramatic scenes make for a solid show well worth the price of admission.
Review by Ryan Moore
Perfect Arrangement continues at the Pride Arts Center through October 22. More information here.