The State of Gay Love? Daniel’s Husband and Gently Down The Stream Reviews

The gay couples at the heart of two separate plays currently running Off-Broadway have been together for years, and yet, neither are married because one partner in each of the relationships doesn’t want to be, apparently on philosophical grounds:

“Who ever said we were meant to be legal?” Harvey Fierstein as Beauregard says in “Gently Down The Stream,” a play by Martin Sherman through May 21st at the Public Theater. “ We’re supposed to be outlaws; we’re supposed to be inventing new rules, not imitating all the old conventions, not going backwards.”

“The entire concept of marriage, I find it outdated, musty and fundamentally wrong… The only thing to be gained by gay marriage is the legal stuff,” Matthew Motolongo as Mitchell says in “Daniel’s Husband,” a play by Michael McKeever, in a Primary Stages production through April 28 at the Cherry Lane. “We’ve gone to our lawyer and had all of that taken care of.”

The decision not to get married has unforeseen consequences in both new dramas. Do these plays say anything about the state of love after the nation-wide legalization in 2015 of marriage between two people of the same gender? Or do they say more about the state of gay playwriting?

Click on any photograph by James Leynse to see it enlarged.

“Daniel’s Husband” begins the way so many gay plays have in the 49 years since “Boys in the Band” first opened Off-Broadway – gay friends gathered together making witty banter. At a dinner party in a tastefully appointed home (admirably detailed by set designer Brian Prather), we get to know Mitchell, who makes a living as a gay romance novelist, an odd occupation given his cynicism; and Daniel (Ryan Spahn), his partner of seven years, an architect who clearly likes structure in his life; he does want to get married. Their guests for the evening are Barry (Lou Liberatore), Mitchell’s literary agent and best friend, and Barry’s date, Trip (Leland Wheeler), whom Barry met just a few weeks earlier, one of an endless series of short-lasting Barry boyfriends less than half his age. Trip, 23, has never seen a record album before, and he doesn’t understand Mitchell’s attitude towards marriage.

Almost an hour into the 90-minute running time, “Daniel’s Husband” turns into a different play. Since the second half is fresher and more powerful, I feel comfortable revealing what is obviously meant to be a surprise twist, but shouldn’t be. Daniel gets deathly ill, unable to speak. This winds up putting Mitchell at odds – psychologically, and legally — with Lydia, Daniel’s mother. In the first half of the play, we heard Daniel say that Lydia was a selfish mother, and we saw her during a visit drinking champagne and badmouthing Daniel’s dead father. This was preparation for her becoming the villain in the second half. This is true even though (or maybe in part because) she says: “I’m not the villain in this. There is no villain in this.” But she is made the classic straw man – a character who exists to be knocked down.

Given Mitchell’s explicit arguments against gay marriage in the first half of the play, the turn of events becomes an implicit refutation of Mitchell’s beliefs, a one-sided argument for the necessity of gay people getting married. “Daniel’s Husband” becomes an odd and simplistic cautionary tale. Only the acting under Joe Brancato’s direction saves us from utter authorial strong-arming. Rather than deriving any satisfaction at what we could take as Mitchell’s comeuppance, we are moved by Montelongo’s depiction of Mitchell’s desperate love for Daniel. Similarly, both Anna Holbrook as Lydia the selfish mother and Leland Wheeler as Trip the twink defy the potential for stereotype baked into their roles.

Just as Lydia and Mitchell wind up warring with one another, so do the two halves of the play. Both wars are undermining…and avoidable. Had McKeever begun “Daniel’s Husband” with Daniel’s illness – and shelved the first half, perhaps to be used in a future play – “Daniel’s Husband” might have been a wholly affecting drama.

Click on any photographs by Joan Marcus to see them enlarged.

Like Michael McKeever in “Daniel’s Husband,” playwright Martin Sherman in “Gently Down the Stream” seems to believe that same-sex marriage is important, and that there is some resistance to it from within the gay community that he finds regrettable. But Sherman’s approach is less an argument than a simple explanation for attitudes like Beau’s.

Beau (Harvey Fierstein) is a New Orleans-born piano accompanist who lives as an expatriate American in a London flat lined with books (the elegant set is by Derek McLane.) The play begins in 2001, when Beau, using a new-fangled online dating site, has just hooked up with Rufus (Gabriel Ebert, Tony winner for Matilda, and a veteran of Fierstein’s Casa Valentina.) Rufus is a 28-year-old eccentric, bipolar lawyer. Beau is 62. Beau doesn’t expect this “assignation” to last beyond a day. “I’m old enough to be your ancestor.” Yet it develops into a relationship that we track through some sharp-edge curves over the next 13 years.

“Gently Down the Stream” also has a second track. Rufus is interested – obsessed – with gay history. He doesn’t just ask Beau many questions about the past; he insists on videotaping Beau’s recollections. Much of “Gently Down The Stream” is taken up with these recollections, rather awkwardly inserted monologues about old lovers meeting tragic ends – “I knew it would end badly, because that was just simply the way it was with our lot” — and sad moments in gay history. It turns out that, much like Zelig or Forrest Gump, Beau has a talent for being at the right place at the right time – or, with certain tragic events, the exact wrong place. He was also friends, or at least acquainted, with such gay celebrities as Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Gore Vidal, James Baldwin and Larry Kramer, and lesser known but no less intriguing historical figures, like singer Mabel Mercer (Beau was her accompanist.) Add in the references to AIDS and the crystal meth epidemic among gay men, and the play starts to feel like a forced crash course in gay life. There is another rich layer simply in the casting of Harvey Fierstein, who since his Broadway debut as the author and star of Torch Song Trilogy in 1982, has himself become a figure in gay history.

All of Beau’s recounting of both his personal and communal past, much of it morose, offers a bracing explanation for the character’s pessimism about the future. Even the gay moments (in both senses of the word) are laced with melancholy. In one of his monologues, Beau recalls how “gay life, always secret and furtive and forbidden, blossomed” during World War II, and tells the story he heard from a veteran named Sam of a soldier from the hinterlands, temporarily stationed in New York, taking a room at the YMCA to have sex for the first time with another man, and jubilantly singing the nursery rhyme “Row, row, row your boat/gently down the stream” – which had an odd effect:

“…and suddenly from another room, he heard another soldier’s voice, joining in, a very deep baritone, and then from another room, another voice, and, and then the entire Young Men’s Christian Association, including Sam, seemed to be singing, but not just singing, singing a roundelay, everyone remembering their own childhood and the pain of it, and now suddenly this sense of release….Sam said that was the happiest moment of his life. “

But such euphoria ended abruptly, repression returned at the end of the war, and when Beau met Sam, he had become a drunken bum in Rio.

Beau’s experiences, and that of his circle, have bred in him a sense of hopelessness, leading him to self-sabotage. Convinced that the relationship will end badly, as all his others have, Beau rejects Rufus’ marriage proposal, and in effect pushes him away.

Playwright Sherman, whose best-known play, Bent, was about gay inmates of Nazi concentration camps, obviously knows where Beau’s pessimism comes from, but he evidently does not share it. He presents the optimism of a new generation, embodied not just by Rufus, but by the lover that Rufus eventually finds, Harry (a delightful Christopher Sears), a performance artist younger than Rufus. When Harry, in torn jean, black leather, pierced and tattooed full punk regalia, croons the Gershwin’s The Man I Love, there is something so hilarious, charming and touching about it that you begin to share the play’s optimism, even if Beau never does.

It’s been just 14 years since Massachusetts became the first state in the union to legalize same-sex marriage, six years since New York State, and just two since the Supreme Court legalized it in all 50 states – a decision that, many say, the new administration will try to undermine. Surely, nobody would be surprised by the recent study that concludes that married LGBT adults are happier than single ones. But if there’s been enough time to offer some sociological insight, we may have to wait for our dramatists to fashion from this new reality searing dramas with sophisticated insights.

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A 24-Decade History of Popular Music Review: Taylor Mac’s Epic Queer Americana

I’ve only sat through nine hours of A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, Taylor Mac’s outrageous, outlandish, offensive, embarrassing, raunchy, insightful, inspired, clever, sometimes hilarious, sometimes moving, sometimes thrilling, once-in-a-lifetime theatrical event.I feel deprived for having to miss the other 15 hours worth of concerts. The term “concert” feels inadequate – just as calling Mac a drag act doesn’t get anywhere close to describing the artist’s extraordinary talent and breadth of theatrical ambition . The Mac voice is a flexible instrument that serves all genres, the body a canvas for fabulousness, the mind a weapon against mainstream complacency.

“A 24-Decade History of Popular Music” has been running at St. Ann’s Warehouse since September 15 in three-hour segments (actually closer to three and a half hours), each covering three decades. The shows will culminate in a continuous 24-hour performance on October 8th and 9th in which Mac will perform all the songs from 1776 to the present. There are no intermissions, for the three-hour concerts or for the 24-hour marathon. Audience members are encouraged to leave whenever they have to.

A copy of Taylor Mac's pink costume for 1956 to 1966, by Machine Dazzle, on display on a mannequin in the lobby of St. Ann's Warehouse

A copy of Taylor Mac’s pink costume for 1956 to 1966, by Machine Dazzle, on display on a mannequin in the lobby of St. Ann’s Warehouse

Taylor Mac has been putting this project together for years, with director Niegel Smith (now artistic director of The Flea) and a stellar design team that includes MacArthur “genius” fellow Mimi Lien as the set designer and the costume designer known as Machine Dazzle, whose costumes are so intricately flamboyant that a facsimile of them are on display in the St. Ann’s Warehouse lobby, as if at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I saw the work-in-progress 1900s to 1950s concerts at New York Live Arts in January, 2015, and this past weekend caught the 1956 to 1986 concert, which has proven to be the most popular.

“A 24-Decade History of Popular Music” is as much an American cultural and political history – and the weirdest fashion show this season — as it is a history of the nation’s music. It is decidedly a queer history, if there is room in that label for other marginalized groups beyond LGBT.

The first decade of the three I saw over the weekend, 1956 to 1966, was focused on the March on Washington and the civil rights movement. Mac came out dressed in a pink dress suit and pillbox hat reminiscent of Jackie Kennedy’s, with an American flag undergarment, and a shawl of Campbell soup cans – as well as sundry accessories I couldn’t quite identify. Mac first sang “Turn, Turn, Turn,” the 1950’s Peter Seeger song whose words come directly from the Biblical Book of Ecclesiastes. Then Mac ordered  all the white people in the center section “to stand and move to the suburbs” – the seats at the edge. He welcomed the people of color to take their place at the center. This was a pointed illustration of segregation, and amusing, if only because it’s not your usual concert patter. But it went too far when Mac spotted a white man still in the center, and ranted until the man was more or less chased out of his seat. This turned out to be one of the tamer examples of audience involvement, although the others were more outwardly affectionate. Theatergoers not familiar with his work should be aware that Mac’s aggressive commitment to novel audience participation seems to be a full-fledged part of the artist’s boundary-crossing aesthetic.

The songs selected from the decade were by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, The Supremes, The Staple Singers, Bob Dylan and several from Nina Simone, concluding with her “Mississippi Goddamn.” Mac introduced the song by observing that “My three favorite singers can’t really sing. Nina Simone always sung slightly above or below pitch.” But her singing was deeply effective, because she was singing her rage. I suspect rage motivates Mac’s art as well.

For the next decade, Machine Dazzle came on stage to undress Mac. Bald, wearing nothing but beige underwear and some glittery makeup, Mac resembled a cyborg from a science fiction series, or at least a warehoused mannequin.

Mac, re-dressed in a tie-dyed miniskirt, a psychedelic light show of a bra, and a hat that looked like a disco ball, launched into 1966-1976, and a focus on the Stonewall riots and what led up to them. The theme of gay oppression and liberation gave a new meaning to the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.”

Stripped once again, Mac was re-dressed as a feathery, glittery disco diva all in purple, and sang some disco anthems, as well as “the greatest make-out song ever written” – Prince’s “Purple Rain.” The subject of this decade was sex – specifically, backroom sex. “I like anonymous sex,” Mac said at one point. “I get you’ve never heard anyone say that from a stage….unless you went to one of those progressive schools.”

The decade, and the evening, ended with what Mac called “a bummer,” Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” written in 1979, a year before the band’s lead singer and lyricist, Ian Curtis, committed suicide. Mac said nothing about that, but didn’t have to.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Guys Chillin’ Review: Cautionary Tales at Drug-Fueled Gay Sex Party

5-guys-chillin-5-elliot-hadley-and-cesare-scarpone

Elliot Hadley and Cesare Scarpone

There are two ways to take “5 Guys Chillin’,” Peter Darney’s play in the Fringe Encore series that takes place among five half-naked gay characters at a drug-fueled sex party. One is as a seductive entertainment in which fit young performers are dancing and smiling and snuggling and generally seem to be having fun, at least initially. The Soho Playhouse even permits the audience to bring in drinks from the downstairs Huron Club.

The other is as something of a public service announcement by writer and director Peter Darney, who, like the Larry Kramer of his generation, is warning members of the gay community about self-destructive excess. Each member of the audience is handed a package of condoms as they enter the theater.

Darney’s evident intent is to have you react to “5 Guys Chillin’” as both an entertainment and as a powerful – and graphic — cautionary tale. The combination can feel awkward at times, and unrealistic. At first blush, it might seem odd that the characters spend much more of their time talking about past practices and experiences rather than, um, making new ones. There is a scene near the end of the play that could come off as downright ludicrous. One of the characters has just gone into a drug-induced fit and become unconscious; the others sit nearby ignoring him and launching into a series of monologues about dangerous or disappointing encounters they have had in the past.

It is important to know, however, that, according to the playwright, every word the characters utter is true, taken from interviews he conducted with people he met on Grindr and other social media apps who are involved in the chemsex subculture. (which is one of the terms helpfully defined in a glossary included in the program.) The (true) stories they tell bluntly impart a lot of information  – about the type of drugs and sexual practices involved, the rules of etiquette of the parties, the racial attitudes of the participants, the varied ways and reasons they got drawn in.

The knowledge that everything the characters say is verbatim (albeit edited) from actual people  adds an extra layer of alarm and revulsion at some of the comments: “I like having sex with guys that have Gonorrhea, ‘cause it’s the best lube in the world.”

That line is given to the character R, who is portrayed by Elliot Hadley, one of the five brave and persuasive performers – and one of the cast members who are holdovers from the production at the Edinburgh Festival in August. Another is Adi Chugh, who portrays PJ, the one newcomer to the party (which is one of the ways the playwright tries to justify all the talk of past sex party experience; the other characters are explaining themselves to the newcomer.) PJ is probably the most memorable character. He is of Pakistani descent, in an arranged marriage to a woman from a small Pakistani village, the father of one son and another on the way. “I’m a Pakistani male from a very traditional family, it’s never gonna be accepted, you know? There’s a part of me that…I will never like myself.” When he first started going to sex parties, “I remember I would always feel a little bit embarrassed, and disgusted at myself. But that was also the bit that I liked. I wanted it to match how I felt inside. A little bit disgusted at myself. A little bit ashamed.”

It is PJ that overdoses in “5 Guys Chillin’” It soon becomes clear that the other characters are ignoring his unconscious body not from some flaw in the writing, but as the playwright’s deliberate comment on one of the insidious products of the chemsex scene — indifference.

 

5 Guys Chillin’ runs through October 9, 2016 as part of the Fringe Encore Series at Soho Playhouse.

Written and directed by Peter Darney

Lighting design by Sherry Coenen, movement director Chris Cuming, sound design by Jo Walker

Cast: Rick Yale as J, Cesare Scarpone as M, Elliot Hadley as R, Richard De Lisle as B, Adi Chugh as PJ

Running time: 70 minutes with no intermission

 

Tickets: $45

Fringe Review: The Radicalization of Rolfe. A gay Nazi’s version of The Sound of Music.

After all those sequels and prequels and back stories based on “The Wizard of Oz” and “Peter Pan,“ isn’t it time somebody did the same for “The Sound of Music”?

Playwright Andrew Bergh reminds us who Rolfe is in the very first scene of “The Radicalization of Rolfe,” when the Nazi Lieutenant Zeller asks Rolfe how old he is.

“I am seventeen, going on eighteen,” he replies.

Ah yes, Rolf Gruber is the blond-haired baritone and telegram delivery boy in “The Sound of Music” who sings a love duet with Liesl, the eldest Von Trapp daughter, but turns into a Nazi.

The new play adds an e to Rolf’s name for some reason, and makes him gay. We see (discreet) post-coital scenes with Johan, who is in effect his boyfriend, though Rolfe is not happy about it.

Rolfe: I’m making changes. I’ve decided I’m going to be someone. And so obviously, this has to stop. I mean, you can’t be someone, someone of purpose, of importance, with this going on… Are you listening to me?
Johan: Barely.
Rolfe: So… We stop. Ok?
Johan: Ok. We stop. Finished.

Rolfe: You don’t believe me.
Johan: Not for a minute.

When Rolfe tells Lieutenant Zeller his age, it gets a big laugh. But there are only a handful of laughs in the play after that…intentionally so. “The Radicalization of Rolfe” is not a campy spoof. It is also not a musical, although Rolfe does sing a couple of songs a cappella. The plot, demonstrating that the Nazis were evil and corrupting, is not exactly full of original insights, nor self-evidently rooted in extensive research.

I suppose these are good reasons why Bergh’s play shouldn’t work. But it did for me, in part because it’s a fascinating exercise to re-view “The Sound of Music” from the oblique perspective of some of its minor characters. (While the main characters of “The Sound of Music” never appear, the “Rolfe “characters recount what’s happening to the Captain and Maria and the children in nearly every scene.) Director Abigail Zealey Bess takes the material seriously and ratchets up the tension, aided by the fine acting of its five-member cast – Jay Patterson as the outwardly obsequious and inwardly scheming Von Trapp butler Franz who is spying on the von Trapps for the Nazis; Polly Adams as the intelligent and well-meaning Von Trapp housekeeper Frau Schmidt; Alex J. Gould as her nephew and Rolfe’s irresistible love interest Johan; Dominic Comperatore as Lieutenant Zeller, a no-nonsense Nazi who is neither a clownish Klink (from Hogan’s Heroes) nor a psychotically sadistic Standartenführer Hans Landa (from Inglourious Basterds.) Zeller is of course evil, but in a coolly practical way. “The country needs young men like you,” he tells Rolfe, recruiting him to seduce Liesl and spy on her father. Above all, Logan Sutherland makes for a believable Rolfe, who starts off easily manipulated because of his naïveté and ambition, then hardens while in his  youthful arrogance he believes that he has everything under control — until he learns, brutally, that he can control nothing. For all the inevitability of the ending, it is no less chilling.

 

The Radicalization of Rolfe

Players Theater

 

Remaining show times

FRI 19 @ 7  ||  SUN 21 @ NOON  || WED 24 @ 4:30

Gay Parade NYC 2016: We Are Orlando

The 46th annual Gay Pride Parade, aka LGBTQ March, comes exactly two weeks after a man shot dead 49 people in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and the marchers carried pictures of the dead, and signs that said some version of “We Are Orlando.”

 

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged.

New group, Gays Against Guns:

Obama Makes Stonewall A National Monument

Stonewall Place sign

In the video below, President Barack Obama announces he is designating the area around the Stonewall Inn in New York City as the country’s first national monument to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights.

“This week I’m designating the Stonewall National Monument as the newest addition to America’s national park system,”
The White House said the monument would encompass Christopher Park, the Stonewall Inn and the surrounding streets and sidewalks that were the sites of the 1969 Stonewall uprising.

Orlando Mass Shooting Prompts Outpouring by Theater Community

An American-born suspect identified as Omar Mateen shot and killed 50 people early this morning at the Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. The largest mass shooting in American history occurred during LGBTQ Pride Month, and on the day of the Tony Awards. It prompted an outpouring from people in the theater community.

View image on Twitter

President Barack Obama’s comments from the White House:

Today, as Americans, we grieve the brutal murder—a horrific massacre—of dozens of innocent people. We pray for their families, who are grasping for answers with broken hearts. We stand with the people of Orlando, who have endured a terrible attack on their city. Although it’s still early in the investigation, we know enough to say that this was an act of terror and an act of hate. And as Americans, we are united in grief, in outrage, and in resolve to defend our people.

I just finished a meeting with FBI Director Comey and my homeland security and national security advisors. The FBI is on the scene and leading the investigation, in partnership with local law enforcement. I’ve directed that the full resources of the federal government be made available for this investigation.

We are still learning all the facts. This is an open investigation. We’ve reached no definitive judgment on the precise motivations of the killer. The FBI is appropriately investigating this as an act of terrorism. And I’ve directed that we must spare no effort to determine what—if any—inspiration or association this killer may have had with terrorist groups. What is clear is that he was a person filled with hatred. Over the coming days, we’ll uncover why and how this happened, and we will go wherever the facts lead us.

This morning I spoke with my good friend, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, and I conveyed the condolences of the entire American people. This could have been any one of our communities. So I told Mayor Dyer that whatever help he and the people of Orlando need—they are going to get it. As a country, we will be there for the people of Orlando today, tomorrow and for all the days to come.

We also express our profound gratitude to all the police and first responders who rushed into harm’s way. Their courage and professionalism saved lives, and kept the carnage from being even worse. It’s the kind of sacrifice that our law enforcement professionals make every single day for all of us, and we can never thank them enough.

This is an especially heartbreaking day for all our friends—our fellow Americans—who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The shooter targeted a nightclub where people came together to be with friends, to dance and to sing, and to live. The place where they were attacked is more than a nightclub—it is a place of solidarity and empowerment where people have come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds, and to advocate for their civil rights.

So this is a sobering reminder that attacks on any American—regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation—is an attack on all of us and on the fundamental values of equality and dignity that define us as a country. And no act of hate or terror will ever change who we are or the values that make us Americans.

Today marks the most deadly shooting in American history. The shooter was apparently armed with a handgun and a powerful assault rifle. This massacre is therefore a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school, or in a house of worship, or a movie theater, or in a nightclub. And we have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be. And to actively do nothing is a decision as well.

In the coming hours and days, we’ll learn about the victims of this tragedy. Their names. Their faces. Who they were. The joy that they brought to families and to friends, and the difference that they made in this world. Say a prayer for them and say a prayer for their families—that God give them the strength to bear the unbearable. And that He give us all the strength to be there for them, and the strength and courage to change. We need to demonstrate that we are defined more—as a country—by the way they lived their lives than by the hate of the man who took them from us.

As we go together, we will draw inspiration from heroic and selfless acts—friends who helped friends, took care of each other and saved lives. In the face of hate and violence, we will love one another. We will not give in to fear or turn against each other. Instead, we will stand united, as Americans, to protect our people, and defend our nation, and to take action against those who threaten us.

May God bless the Americans we lost this morning. May He comfort their families. May God continue to watch over this country that we love. Thank you.

 

“…where people came together to be with friends, to dance and to sing, and to live.”

florida-shooting_-4

Perfect Arrangement Review: Comedy about Gay Persecution in the 1950s

“Perfect Arrangement”

“Perfect Arrangement,” a socially conscious comedy that marks playwright Topher Payne’s debut in New York, is his take on what’s come to be called the Lavendar Scare of the 1950’s, an off-shoot of the Red Scare. “Senator McCarthy had such success with rooting out Communists in government service,” Payne has explained, “that he expanded the definition of security risk to include drunkards, loose women and suspected homosexuals — so basically anyone that makes a party worth attending.”

At its best, Payne’s play tells the story of the government’s persecution of gay people in the 1950s by borrowing giddily from a 1950’s sitcom like “I Love Lucy” – complete with comic one-liners, a ditzy dame, a farcical plot, crinkly ankle-length crinoline dresses, even a generic-looking set that recalls in style and layout that of a 1950’s situation comedy. But the play, which has opened at Primary Stages, ultimately stumbles, by in effect leaving the 1950’s – looking at this slice of history through the fixed lens of the 21st century.

Bob Martindale and his secretary Norma Baxter have been working for several years for the “Personnel Security Board” of the U.S. State Department, firing insufficiently patriotic employees. “Your methods of identifying anti-American sympathizers have resulted in the removal of thousands of security risks,” their boss Theodore Sunderson tells them. “Fine Americans, both of you.”

Sunderson, accompanied by his wife Kitty, is saying this at a dinner party at Bob and Millie Martindale’s Georgetown townhouse, which is also attended by Norma Baxter and her husband Jim. It’s here that Mr. Sunderson informs them of the expansion of their mission – to “deviants.”

“Teddy, you don’t mean fags, do you?” his wife asks.

“Kitty, don’t be off-color,” Mr. Sunderson responds.

This puts the Martindales and the Baxters in something of a spot. Until now, they have had a perfect arrangement, marriages of convenience to mask the fact that Bob Martindale and Jim Baxter are lovers, as are Millie Martindale and Norma Baxter – gay men married to lesbians.

The fake couples live in adjoining buildings; much comic and thematic use is made of the closet that secretly connects the two homes; we see each of the four at one time or another retreating into that closet.

What follows is Bob’s attempt to do his new task at the State Department with Norma’s help, while trying to keep their identities hidden so as not to ruin their own careers.

This proves difficult to do. For one thing, Ted’s wife Kitty takes a liking to them. (She’s the ditzy dame.) And then, Barbara Grant enters into the picture. She’s a skilled translator at the State Department, but she’s also one of the loose women, and Bob is fine with getting rid of her. There’s just one problem: long ago and far away, Barbara and Millie had a sexual dalliance.

Carefully plotted, well-acted, and delightfully designed,  “Perfect Arrangement” offers delicious little moments of satire, such as when Kitty and Millie talk about being “girlfriends” (in the pre-liberated sense) and the characters rave about household products as if they are doing a 1950’s commercial for them. At a certain point in the play, there is a shift in tone, from comic to gravely serious. That would not be a problem if the resolution of the play were not so self-satisfied and implausible, a 2015 fantasy of 1950’s life, with strident, righteous lines like:

“You know, there’s going to come a day, and it won’t be long, when people like us stop lurking in the shadows. And history generally does not look kindly upon repressors, or their sympathizers….When we look back on your type, all we will feel is pity and disgust. And then, you will be forgotten.”

This glib uplift and relevance might be easier to accept were there not already plays that have more persuasively and precisely immersed us in the time and place and the terror that is the setting of “Perfect Arrangement.” Two that spring to mind are “The Temperamentals”  by Jon Marans, which featured Michael Urie (Ugly Betty, Buyer & Cellar), a clearly well-researched play about the founders of the early gay rights organization the Mattachine Society, and Alexi Kaye Campbell’s The Pride, which starred Ben Whishaw and Hugh Dancy, and was set in two different eras, 1958 and 2008. One need not use drama to rearrange the past in order to produce perfect heroes to inspire the present. It’s more honest and effective to try to understand the ways imperfect people muddled through. Survival is inspiring enough.

Click on any photograph by James Leynse to see it enlarged

Perfect Arrangement

At Primary Stages at Duke on 42nd Street

Written by Topher Payne

Directed by Michael Barakiva

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. JaredJanas

Cast: Julia Coffey as Norma Baxter, Robert Eli as Bob Martindale, Mikaela Feely-Lehmann as Millie Martindale, Christopher J. Hanke as Jim Baxter, Kelly McAndrew as Barbara Grant, Kevin O’Rourke as Theodore Sunderson, Jennifer Van Dyck –as Kitty Sunderson.

Tickets: $70

Perfect Arrangement is scheduled to run through November 6, 2015

Watch: Changing My Major, Fun Home Lesbian Love Song, on Late Night With Seth Meyers

ChangingmyMajorLateNight

Late Night with Seth Meyers featured the six minute scene and song from Fun Home, when Medium Alison (Emily Skeggs), a freshman college student, kisses a classmate, Joan (Roberta Colindrez), and then later, while Joan sleeps on Alison’s bed, breaks into song. (Lyrics below)

What happened last night? Are you really here?
Joan Joan Joan Joan Joan
Hi Joan Don’t wake up, Joan Oh my god last night
Oh my god Oh my god Oh my god Oh my god last night I got so excited
I was too enthusiastic
Thank you for not laughing
Well you laughed a little bit
at one point when I was touching you and said I might lose consciousness which you said was adorable
and I just have to trust
that you don’t think I am an idiot or some kind of an animal
I never lost control
due to overwhelming lust
But I must say that I’m
Changing my major to Joan
I’m changing my major to sex with Joan I’m changing my major to sex with Joan with a minor in kissing Joan
Foreign study to Joan’s inner thighs A seminar on Joan’s ass in her Levis And Joan’s crazy brown eyes
Joan, I feel like Hercules
Oh god that sounds ridiculous Just keep on sleeping through this and I’ll work on calming down
so by the time you’ve woken up I’ll be cool I’ll be collected and I’ll have found some dignity but who needs dignity?
‘cause this is so much better
I’m radiating happiness
Will you stay here with me
for the rest of the semester?
We won’t need any food
We’ll live on sex alone
Sex with Joan!
I am writing a thesis on Joan!
It’s a cutting edge field and my mind is blown I will gladly stay up ev’ry night to hone
My compulsory skills with Joan
I will study my way down her spine Familiarize myself with her well-made outline While she researches mine!
I don’t know who I am
I’ve become someone new
Nothing I just did
is anything I would do
Overnight everything changed, I am not prepared I’m dizzy I’m nauseous I’m shaky I’m scared
Am I falling into nothingness
or flying into something so sublime? I don’t know!
But I’m
Changing my major to Joan
I thought all my life I’d be all alone But that was before I was lying prone
in this dorm room bed with Joan
Look, she drooled on the pillow–so sweet All sweaty and tangled-up in my bed sheet And my heart feels…
Complete
Let’s never leave this room
How’ bout we stay here ‘til finals
I’ll go to school forever
I’ll take out a dementedly huge high-interest loan ‘Cause I’m changing
my major

Watch 90 Seconds of Gay Pride

The day-long New York City Gay Pride Parade presented in 90 seconds in this video.