Monday, March 13, 2023

'Perfect Arrangement' at Hillbarn resonates today


Norma (Leslie Waggoner, left), Millie (Amanda Farbstein), Jim (Alex Rodriguez) and Bob (Brad Satterwhite) discuss their dilemma. (Photo by Tracy Martin)

Although Topher Payne’s “Perfect Arrangement,” being staged by Hillbarn Theatre and Conservatory, is set in the very early ’50s, it resonates today.

Back then, officialdom focused on rooting out Communists in government and other areas and then extended its reach to homosexuals who could be blackmailed into revealing government secrets.

Today the focus is on “wokeness” and “don’t say gay,” especially in schools.

Inspired by a true story, “Perfect Arrangement” features two gay couples, one male, one female, who enter legal but sham marriages to hide their true leanings. They live in adjoining apartments with a walk-in closet connecting them.

One of the men, Bob Martindale (Brad Satterwhite), is a State Department official tasked with identifying and removing employees deemed security risks.

Norma Baxter (Leslie Waggoner), the wife of his partner, high school teacher Jim Baxter (Alex Rodriguez), is Bob’s secretary. Millie Martindale (Amanda Farbstein) is Bob’s wife and Norma’s partner.

Bob manages his job well until his boss, Theodore Sunderson (John Mannion), orders him to go after gays, too, leading to an ethical and moral dilemma for the couples.

With the appearance of Barbara Grant (Tanya Marie), a State Department employee who had been living overseas, the couples’ arrangement starts to unravel.

As pressures mount and pretenses become more difficult to maintain, the four spouses must decide whether to stay in the closet or come out and face the certain fallout in hopes of paving the way toward acceptance of themselves and others.

All of this makes for serious subject matter, but the play is billed as a comedy. Yes, it has some inherently amusing moments but director Tyler Christie has the excellent cast overplaying the comedy. Toning it down would be beneficial.

This is especially true in the early scene with the two couples plus Bob’s boss and his high society wife, Kitty Sunderson (Erica Wyman). The three women squeal like overexcited teenagers at a rock concert. Thus it’s a relief when the two couples are  alone.

This production benefits from its design elements, such as the stylish costumes by Bethany Deal.

The comfortable living room set, with its symbolic walk-in closet, is by D’Angelo Reyes. It’s supposedly occupied by the Martindales, but it’s actually the women’s home. The men live next door.

Sound by Jules Indelecato and lighting by Aya Matsutomo enhance the production.

Running about two hours with an intermission, “Perfect Arrangement” will continue through March 26 at Hillbarn Theatre, 1285 E. Hillsdale Blvd., Foster City. For tickets and information, call (650) 349-6411 or visit

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