PROVO — It’s the 1950’s, right around the “Red Scare,” except now the government is starting to worry about how individuals who regard themselves as homosexual will impact the United States. For the Martindale and Baxter couples, they have the perfect arrangement, with an understanding that they can love whom they want without the government knowing. Everything is running smoothly until Barbara Grant, a previous lover of Millie Martindale, arrives back in town and is willing to be open about their love affair. When the secrets and the lives of these people start to unravel in an unexpected way, can they keep it together for their own good, or should they shed light on their differences to help provide a better future for those who come after them?
On the second floor of the Provo Towne Centre Mall sits An Other Theater Company, hosting the performance of Perfect Arrangement. Written by Topher Payne and directed by Kacey Spadafora, this funny, creative, and emotional play left me in tears and full of love by the end of the show.
Spadafora helped bring the story to life with good choices in his stage direction. In the small theatre that held only six pews around the edges, the small set design (created by Josh Bingham and Ashley Wilkinson) emphasized the intimate space. Spadafora kept the show entertaining by having the actors use all areas of the stage. I never felt that there was an area being forgotten, or that my gaze was solely on one thing. This was helpful because without any scene changes, the set could quickly become boring, which was not an issue due to Spafadora’s direction for the stage. Bingham and Wilkinson were able to use simple pieces of furniture to enhance the time period of the 1950’s. A red, fluffy couch sat center stage, contrasting the surrounding mustard yellow walls, creating a tension between the two colors which heightened the stress of the “Red Scare” and the couples’ dark secrets. Artwork decorated the walls, with a writing desk set against the wall on stage right that held pictures of Millie and Norma’s adventures together.
The lighting design from Paige Porter was minimal because the show didn’t ask for much lighting technicalities. If she had done anything more than what I experienced, it would have distracted from the show. For the scene changes, the audience would be presented with a “commercial” segment of one or more of the actors singing a song in the style of the 1950’s. Usually, the song would sum up the feelings from the previous scene, such as “I’ll get by as long as I have you,” and “the world will welcome lovers as time goes by.” The actors would take the lamp shade off the stand and reveal a hidden microphone for these “commercial” scene changes. Unfortunately, I would often hear the music over the voices in the microphones, hiding the talented singing voices of most of the cast.
The script was well written, as the comedy and drama united and meshed well together. The cast timed their joke delivery well and left me laughing so hard I had to hold my mouth from bursting out too loudly. Yet, the script also dealt with deeper themes and ideas than what originally appeared on the surface. Within the first act, Norma and Millie discussed their situation, with Norma saying, “Everyone puts on a public face.” While the characters were trying to keep this lie, it was suggested that they were “exhausting themselves from the here and now.”
I wish I had hours to discuss the portrayal of each of the actors within the show. Although there were only seven cast members, each of them did exceptionally well and were able to portray a fully developed person. Each character had their struggles from the past and had well-timed reactions to the scenarios around them. To save time, I will only discuss three actors. First, Kiersten Zundel played Millie Martindale, a unique and flamboyant character. Millie was the poster girl for the “perfect housewife” from the 1950’s. She could quote commercials and gossip about simple things for hours, but when alone with “the family,” as the Martindales and Baxters called themselves, she was a strong, independent woman who knew what she wanted. Zundel was able to portray all of these emotional levels while also being a comic relief with her awkward laughter and exuberant personality.
Second, Norma Baxter (played by Liz Whittaker) was the strong, independent character who never took no for an answer. She was fed up with the lifestyle their secret made them lead, juggling so many roles. However, Norma, had a sensitive side while facing her final choice. Whittaker showed this difficult and highly emotional decision with tears glistening in her eyes as she felt torn between two sides. Whittaker’s tears brought out the large emotion within me at the end of the show. Finally, Jimmy Baxter (played by Tyler Fox) was Norma’s husband, and the main source of comic relief. Jimmy was constantly hungry, eating everything he could get his hands on. Fox would frequently use exaggerated body motions such as throwing himself off the couch and thrusting himself into the scene from off stage to create laughter. I found myself laughing in almost every scene he was in because of his self confidence of his free flowing body movements.
Overall, I appreciated how Perfect Arrangement was presented. I never felt bombarded or pressured to react a certain way to the characters’ plight. I walked away from the show with a deeper appreciation for those who have suffered in the past so that many can enjoy the freedoms we have today. However, I would recommend caution for families with younger children to see this show because of the adult language that was occasionally used within the script.