It stars Joe Knezevich as Martindale; Ann Marie Gideon as his wife, Millie; Clifton Guterman as his boyfriend, Jimmy Baxter; and Courtney Patterson as Norma, Jimmy’s beard and Bob’s office colleague. Kevin Stillwell plays Bob’s straight-arrow boss, Theodore Sunderson. Ann Wilson is Sunderson’s wife, Kitty, who insinuates herself into Millie and Norma’s world. And Stacy Melich is the mysterious, sexually omnivorous State Department translator Barbara Grant, who dresses in European haute couture, looks a little like Joan Crawford and threatens to upset the closeted couples’ carefully constructed fictions.
As the State Department’s lavender scare closes in on the very person charged with executing it, gaiety turns to bitterness, tension mounts, and the lies get bigger and bigger.
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It’s a delight to see Knezevich and Gideon, who are married in real life, back in the sort of caper-comedy mode they inhabited so well some seasons ago at Georgia Shakespeare. Both Gideon and Patterson are as pert as Mary Tyler Moore’s Laura Petrie, and Wilson’s Kitty, a daft and needy snoop, is reminiscent of Gladys Kravitz on “Bewitched.” You expect to see Kitty peeking through the window of the apartment, horrified by the shocking (for its time) behavior within.
Instead of suffering an outright public humiliation, this menage a quartet falls prey to a kind of gnawing, nauseous dread. Norma, who is finely portrayed by Patterson, starts to resent having to pretend to be the fey Jimmy’s adoring wife when she really wants to curl up with her girlfriend. Millie backs herself into a corner, again and again, with her lying impulse. Grant, for her part, proves to be a powerful and manipulative force: dark intruder, liberator, conqueror.
Where, and how, will it all end? Perhaps not as you think. But after all the giddiness, there will be tears, declarations of love, and long, torturous goodbyes. Along the way, the actors get to traipse around Nadia Morgan’s handsome set in Linda Patterson’s fabulous costumes.
The genius of “Perfect Arrangement” is that it manages to balance campy comedy with high-stakes drama. When people get desperate, they get vicious. If Payne has a flaw, it may be that he feels too much tenderness for his characters. Bob Martindale behaves like a cretin and loses nearly everything he thinks he holds dear. Yet we can’t help but pity him, alone in his self-loathing and his house of lies, a ruined man.
Through March 18. 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays. $18-$51. Theatrical Outfit, 84 Luckie St. NW, Atlanta. 678-528-1500, theatricaloutfit.org.
Bottom line: A deftly written study of homophobia and hypocrisy.
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