Disclaimer: I, the Sister who wrote this review, am tangentially affiliated with Fells Point Corner Theatre. However, I had no participation in the development of this production in any way. That doesn’t mean I can’t give an unbiased opinion. If the show was bad, I’d call them out on their shit. I call a spade a spade. That’s how I roll. Now on to the review.
I’ll admit. My Queer history is lacking. I’m a hetero cisgender woman who is constantly learning from my friends in the LGBTQIA+ community. So let me tell you what I learned in preparation for seeing Perfect Arrangement: The Lavender Scare was a witch hunt, in the same vein of McCarthyism and the Red Scare, where businesses participated in mass firings of those who exhibited “deviant” behavior, aka homosexuals in the 1950s. Wow. That’s crazy. The topic sounds ripe for an interesting, dramatic, play. More on that in a second.
The Perfect Arrangement experience (I’m trademarking this) started as soon as I entered the lobby of FPCT. Covers of queer graphic novels were adhered to the wall of the box office and the phrase “Love is Love is Love” was framed by clothes line begging patrons to “post” pictures of themselves using an instant camera. Most impressively was the wall of the lobby which was dedicated to a timeline of queer history. I arrived early, got my program and was occupied by the interactive crossword puzzle until the house opened (Fun fact: the answers to the crossword are on the history timeline for those like me who don’t know shit about queer history). Fun pop music that evoked the word “revolution” played during the pre-show as actors came on silently and posed on stage. Not sure why they were mannequins but that’s a choice and I’m gonna leave it at that.
What is Perfect Arrangement about? In 1950, Bob and Millie Martindale and Jim and Norma Baxter are hip, young couples living in a Georgetown duplex in Washington, DC. Bob (Gabe Fremuth) and Norma (Holly Gibbs) work for a three-letter Government agency and help support their spouses science teacher Jim (Nate Krimmel) and homemaker Millie (Ari Eckley). But there is something very unusual about this happy foursome. They all happen to be gay. Millie and Norma. Bob and Jim. The play takes place in the “Martindale” home, where Millie and Norma reside, a secret passage through the closet leads to the Baxter household. Yes, through the closet. I hope you see the irony in that. Anyway, these marriages of convenience provide cover to outsiders like Bob’s boss Theodore Sunderson (David Forrer) and his ditzy wife Kitty (Ebony N. Jackson). Bob is put in charge of a task force to rid the office of “deviants” which hits a little too close to home. The mysterious, headstrong co-worker Barbara Grant (Shamire Casselle) threatens the livelihood of this “closeted” couple. Comedy and drama ensue.
The Perfect Arrangement script was over the top in a good way. Thank you FPCT for choosing this production to open your 2019/2020 season! A bold choice to start off the new year. The dialogue was well written, a little preachy in parts, but overall witty and emotional. It gave a lot for the actors to work with. And WERK they did. Let me tell you honey, the ensemble cast in this production was stellar. They felt like family and looked like they had a lot of fun and trust with each other. I enjoyed the first scene where the characters play acted in their 1950s gender roles. So much fakeness. I ate that shit up with a spoon. It was as if we were in a 1950s sitcom and the audience was the laugh track. Perfect Arrangement was funny AF! David Forrer played an excellent Straight Man to the comedy around him as the authoritative Theodore Sunderson. Ebony N. Jackson’s physical comedy, timing and character choices were unmatched in her role as Kitty Sunderson. Nate Krimmel had this sweet, naive nature about his character Jim Baxter. I didn’t know if I wanted to laugh at the funny things he said or to give him a hug. I’d do both if I had the chance. Great comedic delivery of his dialogue. The only way I can describe Shamire Casselle’s performance is to paraphrase the message Rihanna sent Lizzo about her 2019 VMA performance, “She fucked that stage like it was her side bitch”. Shamire Casselle stole the scene every time she walked into that living room. Especially in that one costume number at the end. Damn girl!
Holly E. Gibbs slays in every role I’ve seen her play and her turn as Norma Baxter was no exception. I enjoyed watching her power with hints of grace. I felt her sorrow and her triumphs. This was her role to play. Ari Eckley felt a little unsure of themselves on stage as Millie Martindale at the start of the show, but by the monologue at the end their performance took on a soft, yet cold detachment that felt earnest and real. Gabe Fremuth played Bob Martindale as a character desperately trying to cover up who he was. I found this indicative in the character’s costuming. He wore a physical suit, but also an emotional one. His character never felt comfortable being he who was and Gabe played him with depth and honesty.
Not only was the cast on point, but the tech was as well. Set Designer Bruce Kapplin did an AMAZING job on the set. The set was crazy good! It was straight out of a living room set of a 50’s sitcom. Period appropriate furnishings, golden laced wallpaper, the front door and the couch, it was all so realistic. Costume Designer Heather Johnston had the bad ass task of dressing 7 actors is period appropriate clothing. Slay Costumer, slay!!! The costumes fit all body types which in this business is needed, necessary and appreciated. Everyone’s clothing was colorful and character specific. That white dress worn by the actor playing Barbara Grant was simply divine. Beautiful costume work. The costumes paired with the set transported me back in time. I was in the motha fuckin’ 1950s ya’ll!
Lighting Designer Michael Logue used the right mix of colors and tones to make the lighting crisp and complete. I especially took notice of the lighting in Act 2 during one of the more dramatic and pivotal moments in the play. The lighting got brighter as the scene progressed like the truth was coming to light. It was lovely. Direction by Patrick Gorirossi was swift, even and masterful. The ping-pong nature of the dialogue was amplified by the well timed pacing. Patrick Gorirossi took care to dive into the text to find the emotional nuggets and it showed. The push and pull of the power dynamic between the characters had purpose especially when actors were far apart. Patrick Gorirossi’s strong directorial hand crafted this production into a “perfect arrangement”. See what I did there? Shit, I messed it up by pointing it out. Whatever.
Final Thoughts: Perfect Arrangement had so much hidden behind the smiles and the cordiality. This play had depth and poignancy. The idea that Homosexuals are a National threat sounds all too familiar almost 70 years after the Lavender Scare. The category is: Homophobic realness. Regardless of who you are, your realness comes out the most when you are at home. We spend so much of our time as “show ponies for the people we can’t stand”. We are all putting on an act, but for who? For people who don’t know us and judge us from a far. We wear a mask of convenience, putting on a public face in order to save ourselves from being hurt, ridiculed, shamed or judged. To be safe. Unless you’re a reality star and you get paid to have all your shit out in the street. Either way, our Puritanical values here in the USA, land of the free home of the queerphobic/racist/xenophobic assholes, have created a place where people are judged by the morality police or are questioned about their very existence. Sometimes the hardest thing is to accept yourself regardless of what others think of you. One line in the play struck me particularly as a Black woman: “There’s nothing immoral about being a Negro. Not like us”. Damn. That’s deep. Bottom line: Make choices for yourself. Love yourself and fuck anyone who keeps you from who you want to be. Be you in the dark and in the light. Be out and proud or loud and Black or whatever you want. If Big Brother comes knocking and asks you what you do in your bedroom, tell him to fuck off. Love is Love is Love especially when you have it for yourself.
SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO? Go now to see this beautiful, humorous, layered and touching story. Perfect Arrangement is a must see for everyone. It hits you in the gut and tickles your funny bone at the same time. The acting is impeccable, the set is glamorous and the direction is impactful. The fast paced dialogue and resonating quiet moments matched with the excellent directorial pacing kept the action moving. The ending was heartbreaking and heart soaring at the same time. It was not at all what I expected. Grab your hat and your mid-afternoon cocktail and immerse yourselves in the 1950s world presented with heart and realness in FPCT’s production of Perfect Arrangement. Laugh, cry, nod, but don’t just sit there and be a boring ass patron. Lean in and participate in a story that begs you to accept it for who it is. –Z
Running time: 1 hour and 45 mins with a 10 minute intermission. Now through September 22nd at Fells Point Corner Theatre.