Tuesday, June 7, 2022

"Perfect Arrangement" at Theatre in the Round

Just in time for Pride Month, Theatre in the Round is bringing us the story of two gay couples in the '50s, and what they have to do be with the person they love and still have a career and acceptable public persona. What starts out as a comedy turns tragic as this Perfect Arrangement falls apart. As a time when LGBTQ+ rights are threatened, it's good to look back at history and the people who worked so heard to achieve those rights, to remember how much things have changed, and how much they haven't. But this is no dry history lesson, it's an entertaining comedy with an emotional pull that makes you feel for each of the characters as they navigate this sticky situation. A strong cast and spot-on design make this play a Perfect Arrangement indeed (playing weekends throughout June).

Over cocktails in a perfectly pleasant 1950s living room, we meet Bob (Zach Christensen) and Norma (Ariel Pinkerton), who work for the US State Department. Along with their spouses, Millie (Courtney Matula) and Jim (Tony Burton), respectively, they're also next-door neighbors and friends. But they're hiding a secret - all four of them are gay, and the real loving couples are Bob and Jim, and Norma and Millie. They are literally in the closet; they sneak back and forth between their connected Georgetown duplex homes through a coat closet. The faux heterosexual marriages allows them to live their private lives as they wish, while continuing to live and work in a society that doesn't accept homosexuality. It's the "perfect arrangement," except that they're living a lie and can only be their true selves alone behind closed doors. The situation becomes untenable when Bob and Norma's boss (Daniel Hildebrand) instructs them to look for and weed out not just communists, as they have been doing, but also "deviants." Bob is convinced he can control the situation, while Norma does what she can to protect people. Adding to the complicated mix is the boss' less than bright wife (Alison Anderson) that the women have to entertain, and Millie's former fling (Katie Wodele), now a fellow State Department employee in danger, who threatens to expose them if she's not given her job back. All four members of this arrangement are forced to make choices, to decide if they want to continue living a lie, or be honest about who they are, suffering the immediate consequences in the hopes that it will eventually make things better for them, and those who come after them.

Ariel Pinkerton, Alison Anderson, and Katie Wodele
(photo by Christina Morgeneier)
Director Alissa Blaeser expertly walks the delicate line between almost farcical period comedy, and the real and devastating emotions of the characters when behind closed doors. Everyone in the cast, especially the four actors playing the couples, plays their roles well, both the comedy and the drama sides. The in-the-round space has been transformed into a neat and tidy 1950s living room, with mid-century furniture and detailed props on every surface. The lovely period costumes feature an endless array of dresses in the full-skirted '50s style, evening gowns with matching gloves and purses, and sharp suits for the men. There's a lot not to love about this era (homophobia, sexism, racism), but the fashion and design are divine, and well represented on this stage (set design by Lee Christiansen, costume design by Colleen O'Dell, prop design by Bobbie Smith).

Kudos to Theatre in the Round, the oldest theater in Minneapolis, for ending their 70th (yes, 70th!) season with this smart, funny, thought-provoking, devastating play that addresses relevant and timely social issues. They also have some special programming to go along with this play selection, including post-show discussions with experts and an exhibit in the lobby on Minnesota LGBTQ+ history. Visit their website for all of the details and to purchase tickets.