By David Dixon | Theater Preview
The ‘Lavender Scare’ was our ‘Red Scare’
Politics and sexuality are two timely subjects in 2017. That makes this an ideal year for Intrepid Theatre’s production of the 2016 comedy-drama, “Perfect Arrangement.”
Taking place in 1950, the story follows two U.S. State Department employees, Bob Martindale (John DeCarlo) and Norma Baxter (Jennifer Paredes). They are married to each other and pretend to be straight. What few realize is that both of them are in same-sex relationships.
Bob’s wife, Millie Martindale (Laura Bohlin) is actually Norma’s lover and Norma’s husband, Jim Baxter (Joshua Jones), is having an affair with Bob. Problems arise when Bob and Norma are asked to take part in the “Lavender Scare,” a real life witch-hunt against homosexuals.
While the “Red Scare” of the 1940s and ’50s continues to be argued about and reflected upon, the “Lavender Scare” isn’t discussed to the same extent. Even some of the artists involved with the staging at the Horton Grand Theatre weren’t aware about this dark period of history.
Not only were many men and women fired from their jobs, the campaign brought a lot of negative damage to the homosexual community. It wasn’t until several decades later that homosexuality was accepted by a majority of society in this country.
Although the play is meant to be entertaining, Bohlin would like “Perfect Arrangement” to be an enriching experience.
“We can’t forget this period of American history that wasn’t that long ago,” she said.
Playwright Topher Payne uses humor and emotional moments to add humanity to the historical fiction plot. The four main characters might be Payne’s creations, but they are dealing with the many issues that gays and lesbians faced several decades ago.
Bohlin is an actress who feels that the balance between laughter and pathos is earned.
“How cool is it when people can be entertained while being empathetic of a person’s lifestyle?” she said.
In the early scenes, the tale incorporates comedic situations that wouldn’t be out of place in “I Love Lucy.” To get into the style of the narrative, Bohlin said she watched a good amount of those episodes.
“It’s a delightful sitcom that also aided me with research for that period of time,” she said.
CEO/producing artistic director and co-founder of Intrepid, Christy Yael-Cox, and stage manager Taylor Todd, helped educate the cast about the events that inspired Payne’s script.
Jones, especially, got a lot out of the rehearsal process.
“They were excellent about giving us tons of dramaturgical information,” he said. “We spent two days going over how things were shifting from the late 1940s to the 1950s.”
As the evening goes on, Bob and Norma continue to depict different personae in their personal and public life. Their frequent changes in personality are something that Jones believes audiences will connect to, regardless of sexuality or political party.
One of the main conflicts still relevant today is that Bob and Norma don’t publicly stand up for innocent people who end up being victims of intolerance.
Bob and Norma’s choice not to help out those in need is a problem that resonated with Paredes.
“It makes me think about what would happen if I see something that’s wrong in real life,” she said. “Am I going to be a bystander or stand up for somebody that doesn’t have a voice?”
By being both topical and informative, Intrepid’s interpretation of Payne’s story is a fascinating and humorous depiction of a complex era.
Opening night was Feb. 11 and “Perfect Arrangement” will be performed through March 12 at Horton Grand Theatre, located at 444 Fourth Ave., Downtown.
On Feb. 23, join Intrepid for a special post-show discussion on “The Lavender Scare.” Panelists include Lillian Faderman, award-winning scholar of LGBT history and literature; John Lockhart, veteran and former legislative advocate for public education who lived in D.C. during the period and was a first-hand witness; and “Perfect Arrangement” playwright Topher Payne.
For tickets or more information, visit intrepidtheatre.org or call 888-71-TICKETS.
—David Dixon is a freelance film and theater writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.