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Perfect Arrangement
a Comedy/Drama
by Topher Payne

COMPANY : The Process Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : 3rd Space Theater
ID# 2638

SHOWING : April 17, 2008 - May 10, 2008



Inspired by the “lavender scare” of the early 1950s, in which hundreds of Americans were fired from government jobs amid accusations of “moral corruption”- an official euphemism for homosexuality. Perfect Arrangement introduces us to the U.S. Department of State employees assigned to develop the criteria for identifying and removing these security risks: Director of Personnel Bob Martindale and his secretary, Norma Baxter. Unbeknownst to the Department, Bob and Norma are themselves closeted- they’ve married each other’s partners, Jim and Millie, as a cover. In order to maintain the façade for visitors, the Martindales and the Baxters have created lives as perfect as a 50s sitcom- right down to the corny jokes and occasional product placements. But when an employee discovers their secret and threatens exposure, the group discovers how difficult maintaining the illusion can be.

Presented as part of the THREE BY TOPHER FESTIVAL, featuring three World Premieres by Atlanta playwright Topher Payne.

Playwright Topher Payne
Director Barbara Cole Uterhardt
Stage Manager Jennifer Brown
Lighting Design Nina Gooch
Costume Design Jane Kroessig
Norma Baxter Amanda Renee Baker
Barbara Grant Amanda Cucher
Bob Martindale Larry Davis
Jim Baxter Bobby Labartino
Jim Baxter Bryan Lee
Theodore Sunderson DeWayne Morgan
Kitty Sunderson Karen Whitaker
Mildred Martindale Lily Yancey
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Monday, April 21, 2008
I am a big fan of local playwright Topher Payne’s brain.

It has the ability to create some very clever (and original) concepts. It also writes some pretty spiffy dialogue that runs from wonderfully funny to heartbreakingly profound. And it does this in a world where so many other writers steal rather than originate.

Seeing one of Topher’s plays is always a treat for me. I know I will be surprised by something delightfully clever, hear some witty dialogue, and be challenged to think about things in a new way. This holds true for “Perfect Arrangement”, one third of the “3 by Topher” mini-festival currently going on at the Process Theatre on Spring Street downtown. “Perfect Arrangement” is a bit of a morality tale, disguised as a comedy, with a bit of nostalgia thrown in for context.

The premise is clever: two couples, one gay and one lesbian, conspire to appear married to each other’s partner to keep their high profile 1950’s era jobs in the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C.. This conceit is framed in the style of a stereotypical fifties sitcom with scenes and characters straight out of every classic TV show we all grew up with (with a heavy dose of “I Love Lucy” and “The Lucy Show”). They must keep up appearances; lest they loose their jobs because being homosexual equals being unpatriotic in the “Red Scare” times of the McCarthy witchhunts. The situational and moral dilemmas this “Perfect Arrangement” causes are both the meat and the merriment of the show.

The cast for this little nostalgic romp through the good old days of repression and fear is an exquisite team of actors.

The ring leader for this couple of couples is Bob Martindale, played with great energy and charisma by Larry Davis. While his physical appearance is reminiscent of Dick York from the old “Bewitched” TV series, his characterizations and style were completely his own. One of the things that impressed me about his performance was that his character didn’t change between scenes where he had to “front” and scenes where he was being himself. I feared that there might be a “queen” factor when the character was “Gay Bob” as opposed to “Straight Bob”. There wasn’t any difference – apparently gay men don’t have to behave like “queens” to inform an audience of their sexual preference – what a refreshing experience!

Bob’s "Gay Wife” is Jim Baxter, who is given a sweet personality and a winning smile by Bryan Gordon Lee. Bryan is kind of stuck playing second fiddle through most of the show, but he provides the finale with its happy ending (not the kind of “happy ending” you’re thinking of – but close!). He spends most of the show being supportive, being a worry-wart, and ultimately being happy to be home because that’s where he can be himself.

Amanda Renee Baker so totally captures the essence of the stereotypical 50’s “Donna Reed” housewife its frightening. Her portrayal as Jim’s “Hetero Housewife” Norma (aka “Normie” – cute word play on “normal”) also makes me wonder if those 50’s TV housewives were all closet lesbians too?

Her “Lady Love” is Lily Yancey Miller as Mildred Martindale, Bob’s somewhat flighty wife and Norma’s somewhat conflicted lover. Lily does a masterful job of handling her character’s inner conflicts regarding her sexuality and her past, in addition to some outstanding comic moments when a “familiar stranger” appears at the front door.

That stranger is none other than the oft-talked about, famously loose woman, Barbara Grant; played with statuesque strength by Amanda Cucher. She is not nessecarily what she appears to be and Amanda keeps the mystique going with an adroit take on what a strong woman might be like in the 50’s.

All of the above actors get to play characters in both comedic and dramatic moments while two others are tasked with keeping the stereotypes funny and the comedy funnier! And they both do a splendid job employing deft comedic timing and precise delivery while channeling characters we all know from classic TV shows.

DeWayne Morgan adds the perfect touch of nostalgia with his portrayal of the stereotypical 50’s boss, “Mr. Sunderson.” His mannerisms and characterizations instantly brought back memories of “Mr. Mooney” from the old “Lucy” show (even though it was a staple of the 60’s – not the 50’s). He was the perfect blustery blow-hard boss, who is also fundamentally incompetent and is totally “whipped” by his wife

The coupe-de-grace in this incredibly strong cast is the fabulous Karen Whitaker as the air-headed Kitty Sunderson. She is absolutely hilarious! She looks like she just stepped out of a 1950’s episode of “Lucy” and delivers a splendid blend of many great female comic characters from classic TV (I could have sworn I detected hints of “Mrs. Foreman” from “That 70’s Show” )! She is a delight to watch as she subtlety deploys little comedic gems both verbally and visually during her magic time on stage.

I was truly impressed with the production qualities applied to this show. I expected things to be less than lavish due to the size of the venue and the limited financial resources of The Process Theatre; but I was bowled over by the accuracy and quality of the costumes and the wigs. The set was simple, but appropriate. The lighting was the same. The only thing I can quibble about was the 1950’s radio commercials used as transitions between scenes. They were often difficult to hear and bordered on unintelligible at times too. Not to mention they prevented the audience from applauding to show their appreciation after a good scene.

This particular third of the “3 by Topher” mini-festival was directed by local theatrical wunderkind Barbara Cole Uterhardt. While I can honestly say the direction did not stick out in my mind, I can also honestly say that’s a good thing! Barbara is well known as an “actor’s” director and that results in performances where the actor’s are comfortable in their characters and their movement on stage is natural and smooth. That’s exactly what I saw in this production and that kind of direction is a perfect compliment to the script and a pleasure for the audience.

You will have to go see this one because there are so many other wonderful things in this show that I haven’t been able to cover here. The show is presumably about homosexuality; but in truth, it is about humanity. If you are human, go see it. You’ll leave a little more humane.


Caveats & Stuff: I have been in a show (Bus Stop at Stage Door Players) with DeWayne Morgan and Karen Whitaker that was directed by Barbara Cole Uterhardt. I consider them to be friends, but that has nothing to do with what I have said in this “review” because I am not “reviewing” their friendship here. I am “reviewing” their work. My only negative comment about the show is that it is about 20 minutes too long in my opinion (I had the same comment about Topher’s “Attala County Garden Club”). I feel that the extra length here is due to the number of strong monologues railing against “the unfairness of it all” made by each of the “coupled” characters. I think the point could be made quite adequately in single strong monologue by one character, and the audience would probably still get the point. They’re all good monologues mind you, just beating a dead horse in my opinion. Of course, I’m way too lazy to write a play, so what do I know? I have already bought my tickets to see the other two-thirds of the “3 by Topher” mini-festival this weekend: “Don’t Look at the Fat Lady” and “Above the Fold”. Hope to see you there!


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