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Perfect Arrangement: Theater review by Adam Feldman
Watching the kitschy opening scene of Perfect Arrangement, which is set at the start of the McCarthy era, you may feel like the studio audience at a 1950s sitcom. The men share chummy jokes; the ladies, in stiffly bright apparel, natter on about romance and housekeeping. Bob Martindale (Robert Eli) and his wife, Millie (Mikaela Feely-Lehmann), are the hosts; their guests are Bob’s boss (Kevin O’Rourke) and his dotty wife, Kitty (Jennifer Van Dyck). Bob’s secretary, Norma (Julia Coffey), is also there, along with her fit and chipper husband, Jim (Christopher J. Hanke). It all seems very I Love Lucy, but there’s a twist: Bob and Jimmy are secretly lovers, as are Norma and Millie; they’re all just playing it straight for social and professional advancement. (The couples share a duplex, and at night they sneak into each other’s homes through a secret door in—where else?—the closet.)
Things get more complicated when Bob and Norma, who work for the State Department, are given the task of rooting out homosexuals and other supposed blackmail risks. As hypocrisy, fear and guilt creep in to their lives, Topher Payne’s play acquires a heavier hand; contrivances build up, and the ending veers into righteousness. What looked like a 1950s sitcom turns out to be a 1980s sitcom in disguise, capped with liberal messages to applaud. (Payne has played Julia Sugarbaker in a live stage version of Designing Women, and her spirit is felt.) But Perfect Arrangement, directed by Michael Barakiva, moves quick and looks nifty, thanks to Neil Patel’s set and Jennifer Caprio’s costumes. Better yet, it features a pair of really capital performances: by the poised Kelly McAndrew, as a sexually unapologetic translator, and the divine Van Dyck, who gives Kitty’s sincere airheadedness a kind of magnificence. Even when the plays seems overarranged, they are damn near perfect.—Adam Feldman
Primary Stages (at the Duke on 42nd Street) (Off Broadway). By Topher Payne. Directed by Michael Barakiva. With ensemble cast. 2hrs. One intermission.
Follow Adam Feldman on Twitter: @FeldmanAdam