The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings







Etcetera and
Short Term Listings


NYC Restaurants


New Jersey







Free Updates
A CurtainUp Review
Perfect Arrangement

We've sheltered each other from the storm as long as we could, and I'm grateful,truly, but it's time we grew up and started thinking about the future. It's not a perfect arrangement anymore.— Norma
Perfect Arrangement
(from left) Julia Coffey, Christopher J. Hanke, Jennifer Van Dyck, Kevin O'Rourke, Robert Eli, Mikaela Feely-Lehmann (Photo:James Leynse)
Topher Payne's concept for a play about another chapter in the history of the homosexual experience in America is most intriguing. Per the title, a he-he and she-she pair of lovers have concocted a way to live together without risking their careers in the multi-phobic world of 1950. The State department where Bob (Robert Eili) and Norma (Julia Coffey) both work is a particularly volatile place, with any departures from the prevalent moral codes seen as red flags for people likely to be security risks in the fight against communism.

Fortunately, people like playwright Payne are too young to have experienced those dark old days when the word gay was an oxymoron. But Perfect Arrangement reflects Payne's commitment to recording the long struggle experienced by homosexuals — not just in America but elsewhere. To exemplify the latter, there's Alan Turing, whose brilliance just about helped the allies to win World War II, was jailed for deviance and forced to undergo treatments purported to make him "normal."

Perfect Arrangement isn't the first play about one of the sadder aspects of gay history. But it's the first that I can recall that uses the genre of farce. It's set in 1950 when new colors were being added to the Red Scare. The twist: Department of State employees Bob Martindale (Robert Eli) and his secretary Norma (Julia Coffey) are gay. And so they married each other's partners but shared beds with their lovers — Norma is married to school teacher Jim Baxter (Christopher J. Hanke) and Kitty (Mikaela Feely-Lehmann) Norma's true love, is Mrs. Bob Martindale.

This farcical setup, dreamed up by Bob, taps into the sitcom-ish style in which American as apple pie married couples were presented in commercials and shows like I Love Lucy. I'm not into spoiler territory here, as the "arrangement" is revealed right after the opening scene. Given the over the top dialogue and manners on display there, it's easy to see that something isn't quite right from the get-go. Neither is it a surprise that despite Bob's being a practical, get-things-done guy, this arrangement turns out to be less than perfect.

The inevitable complications begin with Bob being a well thought of favorite of his boss Theodore Sunderson (Kevin O'Rourke); so much so, that the the Martindales, Baxters and Sundersons are friendly even away from the office. The ditzy Kitty Sunderson (Jennifer VanDyck) has taken stay-at-home mock wife Millie under her wing and Boss Sunderson has tagged Bob and Julia to take on the task of identifying and firing "deviants" (Thousands of gay employees were indeed fired during this red and pink scare period).

More complications develop with the arrival of the glamorous Barbara Grant (Kelly McAndrew), a State Department official tagged by Sunderson as risky. She's not gay but her admitted indulgence in sex outside of marriage also falls into subversive behavior territory. It turns out that she's not so easy to fire (Yes, she's wise to the real arrangement of the Martindales and Baxters. er

So far, so good. A campy comedy with the in the closet aspect staged as a nice visual metaphor; yet a play with serious underpinnings.

The problem is that Payne hasn't quite managed to make the funny and serious elements coexist comfortably. As the play progresses there's an increasing sense that he's still deciding what kind of play he wants to write. The emphasis on farce strikes me as the more original and clever approach. This is well supported by Neil Patel's set which provides the traditional farce's four door. However when Perfect Arrangement strays into more and more into serious territory it becomes rather unbalanced. In fact, it ends up on the preachy side.

The actors are all just fine and it's nice to see a new play not relying on big box office names. However, they seem more comfortable playing it straight, than sticking with the funny take on the sixties that's hilariously supported by Jennifer Caprio's costumes. Jennifer Van Dyck is the most consistent farceur. Kelly McAndrew's Barbara Grant also stands out as a believable and interesting provocateur. Robert Eli's Bob is the most complex character, but one that would have benefited from more development.

This is Primary Stages' last show at the Duke on 42nd Street before moving to the Cherry Lane. I'll miss this bright and comfortable stage with its perfect sight lines but look forward to following the company in its new home.

Perfect Arrangement by Topher Payne
Directed by Michael Barakiva
Cast: Julia Coffey(Norma Baxter), Robert Eli(Bob Martindale), Mikaela Feely-Lehmann(Kitty Martindale),Christopher J. Hanke(Jim Baxter), Kelly McAndrew (Barbara Grant), Kevin O'Rourke(Theodore Sunderson), Jennifer Van Dyck(Kitty Sunderson)
Scenic design by Neil Patel
Costume design by Jennifer Caprio
Lighting design by Traci Klainer Polimeni
Sound design by Ryan Rumery
Hair and wig design by J. Jared Janas
Stage Manager: Richard A. Hodge
Running Time: Approx 2 hours and 15 minutes with 1 intermission
Primary Stages at The Duke on 42nd Street
From 9/29/15; opening 10/15/15; closing 11/06/15
Tuesday -Thursday at 7PM; Friday at 8PM; Saturday at 2 and 8PM; Sun 3PM. There is an added 2pm performance on Wednesday, October 28. No performances on October 21 and 31.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 10/08 press preview
Highlight one of the responses below and click "copy" or"CTRL+C"
  • I agree with the review of Perfect Arrangement
  • I disagree with the review of Perfect Arrangement
  • The review made me eager to see Perfect Arrangement
Click on the address link E-mail:
Paste the highlighted text into the subject line (CTRL+ V):

Feel free to add detailed comments in the body of the email. . .also the names and emails of any friends to whom you'd like us to forward a copy of this review.

For a feed to reviews and features as they are posted add to your reader
Curtainup at Facebook . . . Curtainup at Twitter
Subscribe to our FREE email updates: E-mail:
put SUBSCRIBE CURTAINUP EMAIL UPDATE in the subject line and your full name and email address in the body of the message. If you can spare a minute, tell us how you came to CurtainUp and from what part of the country.
Slings & Arrows  cover of  new Blu-Ray cover
Slings & Arrows- view 1st episode free

Book Of Mormon MP4 Book of Mormon -CD
Our review of the show

©Copyright 2015, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from