Originally from San Francisco, Haley Slamon is a recent transplant to the Chicago area. When she is not auditioning for shows, Haley enjoys seeing theater that showcases diverse and underrepresented groups that she identifies with (namely queer, plus sized women), knitting, playing piano or guitar, and binge-watching Netflix. She is proud to be helping PerformInk nurture the wonderful companies that are attempting to improve the art-form and their communities by creating engaging, diverse, and meaningful performances.
(l-r) Eric Lindahl, Riley Mondragon, Lane Anthony Flores, Autumn Teague, Amber Snyder, Armando Reyes. Photo by Paul Goyette.
By Haley Slamon
Social activist Desmond Tutu once famously said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” But does that quote apply when your life is the one that’s endangered? This is the underlying question that drives the farcical satire that is Topher Payne’s PERFECT ARRANGEMENT.
Set in the 1950’s, this almost-comedy follows the story of two gay couples during the Lavender Scare, an extension of McCarthyism. The two couples, Bob and Jim (Eric Lindahl and Lane Anthony Flores) and Norma and Millie (Autumn Teague and Riley Mondragon) have married each other’s partners to hide their identities, and moved into adjoining homes in a perfect Georgetown neighborhood. This so-called perfect arrangement is quickly thrown into jeopardy when Bob and Norma, who work at the State Department, are recruited to design and enforce the system that will root out “subversives.” Suddenly the safe haven that the four main characters have created is being overrun with spurned lovers, disgruntled employees, and nosy superiors, until each person living in the home must decide if it is better to give up their way of life to fight for what’s right, or to hide in comfort until the fight is over.
Much like the iconic sitcoms of the 1950’s, the comedy in PERFECT ARRANGEMENT is hard to describe as anything but zany. The biting one-liners, alibis that necessitate half-baked costumes with blatant overacting, and even the occasional pratfall are just the right amount of ridiculous to keep you laughing throughout. These stunts are also only helped along by the reactions of the supporting cast. The liberated State Department translator Barbara (Kelli Harrington) and boss’s wife Kitty (Amber Snyder) are arguably the best things in the show, and create a perfect balance of suave and ditzy to play against the main four. That isn’t to say that everything in this show is an over-the-top riot. In fact, the best acting in the show comes from the tender moments that each couple has alone, with Norma and Millie’s scenes, in particular, showing all the subtle distance that comes from loving someone but only being able to show that in hiding. It is clear that living a lie for so long has grated on each of the main couples, so the rare moments between them that contain no coldness at all are electric.
Even though this show won’t short you on laughs, the most fascinating thing about PERFECT ARRANGEMENT is that it amplifies the central theme of living a lie in an almost Brechtian way, because it never lets you forget that you’re watching a show. Small touches like the path between the two couple’s houses being a closet people are constantly walking into are brilliant reminders that each character is acting like something they aren’t, that is to say, straight. When you know that the characters are in turn played by actors, that duality is on your mind even when you’re laughing at the antics of the show. This is taken even further in PERFECT ARRANGEMENT, with some of the lines essentially calling out the fact that you are watching a play. Perhaps the hardest hitting line is said when Mellie is asked if she’d want to give up the comfort of the lie she’s living to be a lesbian publicly. She simply replies, “This is a set, and these are the costumes.” In plays where characters are hiding who they really are, meta moments like this are far more meaningful than a tongue-in-cheek wink at the audience. They remind you that acting isn’t anything more than pretending to be something you’re not, that if you’re lying about who you are, your life is a play whether it’s in a theatre or not, and eventually, the show will have to end.
PERFECT ARRANGEMENT is a great example of a show that delivers more than it promises. It contains all the comedy and wit that’s been advertised, but with an unexpected side of wisdom on what it means to hide who you are. It leaves you with the ever-relevant question — are you obligated to fight for what’s right at personal risk — as an aftertaste that stays with you past the curtain call. When you add on the sliding scale for tickets, and the fact that Pride Films and Plays is a wonderful company that is committed to creating inclusive, accessible, and relevant theatre for all, PERFECT ARRANGEMENT becomes essential viewing for more than the LGBT+ community, but for everyone.