Albany Civic Theater’s “Perfect Arrangement” Not So Perfect
ALBANY – Albany Civic Theater has a long, storied history in the Capital Region. Stepping back inside the venerable grand dame of the area’s community theaters was a treat in many ways. So many theatrical ghosts came from the past to welcome me back into a space I have not been in for far too long. Photos from productions of the past 40-plus years brought back many memories of actors long gone, productions regaled to the annals of history. It was in many ways slipping on a pair of old, well-worn slippers… comfortable and comforting. Such was the feeling I was hoping to find with ACT’s current production, Topher Payne’s Perfect Arrangement.
It plays like a simple farce with a classic plot. It’s 1950, the beginnings of the era of Mad Men, and two Washington, D.C. couples, the Baxters and the Martindales, are in a “perfect arrangement,” pretending to be heterosexual neighbors when, in reality, they are a pair of same-sex couples. Jim Baxter lives with Bob Martindale, and Norma Baxter is with Millie Martindale. Bob works for the State Department, and Norma is his secretary. They are tasked by Bob’s boss to ferret out the sexual deviants within the department… the homosexuals…expose them, and then fire them. An interesting dilemma for a closeted gay man and his lesbian secretary, who share public marriages of convenience. Inspired by the earliest seeds of the American Gay Rights movement, this show should read like a twist on the 50’s sitcoms like Ozzie and Harriet, I Love Lucy and I Married Joan.
Director John Quinan has done his best to infuse the cast with that classic, almost rote line-reading with somewhat excessive sincerity. The characters oftentimes break the fourth wall to mug to the audience, as if to say “I am in on the secret.” In fact, at times, the lights come down and the actor leans toward the audience to deliver a commercial for a product being used in the play. The men use the upstage closet to escape to their apartment enough times that the metaphor of coming in and out of the closet (both literally and figuratively) becomes a tad heavy-handed.
Regrettably, the problem with this production lies with its cast. They stumbled over many lines opening night (perhaps we can crack that up to opening night nerves). More importantly, they do not appear to be comfortable in the skin of their characters. They are all awkward with the affection the two men and two women show for one another when in their private moments. It feels contrived and forced, thus making it uncomfortable for the audience to watch.
JP Lurie returns to the ACT stage as Bob Martindale, the most complex character, who needs to tread the balance between attempting to do the job as tasked him and taking a stand for his own life and beliefs. Ryan Palmer, as Jim Baxter (Norma’s husband and the other piece of the swapping quartet), while a newcomer to the ACT stage, is a veteran of the area theatrical stage and the most comfortable in his role. His comic timing brings life to the otherwise somewhat stoic production.
Rita Machin is Barbara Grant, whose character is spoken about throughout the play and has a connection with Millie Martindale’s past. She has a wonderful speech towards the end of the second act that truly should have brought down the house. Regrettably, stumbled lines took the air out of her performance. Samantha Miorin (Martindale) and Amy Daisak as Norma are the two most comfortable performers on the stage, yet their dramatic moments also fall short.
Rounding out the cast are Bill Daisak and Laurel Hayes as the boss and his wife. Daisak plays the staunch stereotypical conservative, anti-communist, anti-gay man of a certain era, who sees the world as white bread and then all the rest. Hayes offers the most comic relief as the ditsy, easily-swayed-and-redirected Kitty who is emblematic of the times; the dutiful housewife who is happy to only have to worry about what the housekeeper is making for dinner, and let’s not look too closely at the world around us and rock the boat.
Scenic Designer Peter Kantor has created a charming living room a la I love Lucy that sets the tone for this 1950’s romp. Nicky Lightz’s lighting adds some wonderful moments, particularly when the characters step out of their roles to deliver their commercials.
In all, Perfect Arrangement is flawed by its performances. The play offers some very thought-provoking issues and a look at a slice of life in the 1950s. It is also a very strong, insightful look at how much has changed 70-plus years later… or, perhaps, how little has changed.
Perfect Arrangement runs Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through November 20 at Albany Civic Theater, 235 Second Ave. For times and ticket information call 518-462-1297 or www.albanycivictheater.org.