RTP’s ‘Perfect Arrangement’ aims to make America gay again
Richmond Triangle Players is gearing up to present their latest play using comedy to shed light on a time in American history not often talked examined with a queer eye.
Perfect Arrangement tells the story of four characters during the “Lavender Scare,” a period in the 1950s when people were sent out to try to expose “sexual deviants” in the community. The two male characters, Jim and Bob, work for the State Department and are assigned this task of weeding out those in federal positions who fall out of line with the government’s idea of “normal.”
The show is first presented in an I Love Lucy sitcom style before exposing the secret hidden behind the comedy: that the two main characters are gay and are actually in a relationship with the other’s “spouse.”
The two sets of couples live in adjoining houses, in order to hide from the rest of the world their “perfect arrangement.” Director Amy Berlin and Associate Producing Director Lucian Restivo tried to contrast the exaggerated comedic style of the I Love Lucy sitcom with the heavier reality of the things that went on during the Lavender Scare and the previous Red Scare of the era. “For most people, unless you were in the arts, it wasn’t even an option to be out,” Berlin said. “You just couldn’t.”
Luke Newsome plays the role of Jim Baxter, a schoolteacher technically married to the character Norma to hide his relationship with the other male, Bob Martindale. These marriages designed for the outside world highlight, as Newsome said, “The dynamic between when the mask is on and when the mask is off. They all have a part to play and they all play well together.”
Portraying a past era of American history poses some problems when deciding the best way to pull the audience into the story and keep them fully immersed in the world. However, for Restivo it’s the best part; from researching household objects from the time like cigarettes and grocery bags to recreating photographs that would have been taken and the cameras they would have been taken with.
The play’s tagline, “Make America Gay Again,” isn’t only a reference to the recent Donald Trumps’ presidential slogan, but also a reference to the play and the moment where, as Artistic Director Phil Crosby said, “the folks have a decision to make at a certain point in the play to live their lives authentically or not.”
Authenticity remains a central theme throughout the play. Crosby hopes the play will remind audiences that while the Lavender Scare seems ridiculous to modern society, it really didn’t happen that long ago. “Take none of our advances for granted,” he said. “The play is about being true to your authentic self but it’s also about being vigilant in maintaining your rights. It wasn’t very long ago that the world was a very different place.”
The cast and crew hope that the comedic style of the play doesn’t overshadow the more serious issues being addressed. According the Restivo audiences should expect “a very funny comedy that takes a turn, that will hit your hearts in the appropriate manner. We hope that they laugh; we hope that they cry at moments, we hope everything. It’s a fantastic show.”
The play, written by Topher Payne, had its world premiere in 2009 and was just published for reproduction this year. The Richmond Triangle Players’ cast and crew immediately fell in love with it and its historical context combined with the comedic aspect. “It’s a zany comedy about really serious stuff,” Crosby said.
Perfect Arrangement opens at the Richmond Triangle Players on September 28 and will run until October 22. Tickets are available online through RTP’s website here.
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