“Perfect Arrangement” illustrates a piece of closeted history

The Red Scare of the 50’s McCarthy era is well known. Tales of people blacklisted for being or even accused of being communists abound. Lesser known and discussed is the Lavender Scare, during the same era, persecuting and outing members of the LGBTQ community. “Perfect Arrangement” written by Topher Payne shines a light on those stories.

“[The play has] composite characters based off real people, events and circumstances,” Brandon Andrews, who plays Bob Martindale. Director Nathan Kessler-Jeffrey summed it up by calling it historical fiction. “Perfect Arrangement” was set to open Feb. 16 at the San Juan Community Theatre, but due to weather, illness and other challenges, is scheduled to open Feb. 22 and run through March 3. Kessler-Jeffrey also clarified that the play, taking place in the 50’s, uses words and phrases that are not used today, and may be found offensive. While the play is often deemed a comedy, it is not appropriate for children.

“Perfect Arrangement” tells the story of Bob Martindale, played by Andrews, and Norma Baxter played by Amanda Smith. There’s just one problem: Both Bob and Norma are gay, and have married each other’s partners as a carefully constructed cover. Inspired by the true story of the earliest stirrings of the American gay rights movement, madcap classic sitcom-style laughs give way to provocative drama as two “All-American” couples are forced to stare down the closet door.

Their spouses, Milie Martindale and Jim Baxter are played by Carrie Jewett and Justin Platts. The play also stars Adam Parrott as Theodore Sunderson, Libby Concord as Kitty Sunderson and Nicole Santora as Barabra Grant, who have been tasked with identifying “sexual deviants” within their ranks.

“As I stepped into the Director’s chair, I’ve been surprised by how much comedy is in the script,” Kessler-Jeffreys said. The play is also being performed in the Gubelman room. The smaller space means the limited audience, a little over 60, is up close to the actors and makes the physical comedy that much funnier. “The humor kind of loosens you up as an audience and allows you to feel things you might have been a little more guarded against,” Kessler-Jeffrey added.

The story itself, of course, is serious. These people were in very real danger. “There is a line in the play that says something like, ‘They are hunting us down and flushing us out with every tactic imaginable.’ It was how intent [the government] was. Not just how they felt about it but what they were going to do about it really changed in the early 50s,” Andrews explained.

Kessler-Jeffrey added some of this stemmed from World War II and soldiers being exposed to the world at large while simultaneously not being under the same scrutiny as they were under in their small hometowns. According to Andrews, McCarthy was also not making the headway he wanted rooting out communism. He launched another campaign against the LGBTQ community. While McCarthy has long since fallen out of power, not only was the damage already done, but remnants from that mentality continue.

“It hasn’t stopped. And I hope, with this story, we continue to tell the stories of people we are not as familiar with,” Kessler-Jeffrey said.

“It was very intentional picking this intimate space because tone is so important,” Andrews said. “And I think the most important thing about tone … is making sure we are honoring the people these stories are about”

This play is one that will be talked about, Kessler-Jeffery said, it is one that islanders will not want to miss. Run times are Feb. 22-March 3, Thursdays – Sundays. Thursday, Friday and Saturday performances begin at 7:30 p.m., and on Sundays at 2 p.m.

Tickets are $25 for adults, $15 for students. Thursdays are pay what you can. Tickets may be purchased by calling the Box Office at 360-378-3210 or visiting the website at www.sjctheatre.org.