Metro Weekly

In ‘Perfect Arrangement’ Gay Couples Maintain a Straight Facade

Topher Payne's play, currently at the St. Mark's Players, blends the madcap style of classic sitcoms with provocative drama.

St. Marks Players: Perfect Arrangement
St. Marks Players: Perfect Arrangement

Two State Department employees in 1950s America have been tasked with identifying sexual deviants within their ranks. There’s just one problem: Both Bob and Norma are gay, and have married each other’s partners as a carefully constructed cover.

That’s the premise of Topher Payne’s Perfect Arrangement, which blends the madcap style of classic sitcoms with provocative drama as two “All-American” couples struggle to maintain their straight-laced facade.

A decade after its world premiere in D.C., the Lambda Literary Award-nominated play has been revived by the St. Mark’s Players, “the only active community theater located in the District of Columbia.”

The organization is based out of the same-named Episcopal church on Capitol Hill that, notably, factors into local LGBTQ history — as a host for dances of the Mattachine Society in the early 1960s and a meeting space for the Frank Kameny-affiliated Gay Activists Alliance a decade later.

“D.C. has so much proud queer history that it’s easy to forget this was the source of national anti-LGBTQ legislation as recently as the 1980s,” says actor Ruth Sturm, who plays Norma. Of course, anti-LGBTQ legislators today are agitating and threatening to renew the fight on any and all fronts.

Which is why now is as good a time as any to revisit and reconnect with a work like Perfect Arrangement, steeped in LGBTQ history and portraying an era radically different from our own. The more we know about history, as the famous adage goes, the less we’ll be doomed to repeat it.

That’s ultimately what motivated Payne to develop the work in the first place — the sense that too many people, especially too many queer people, know next to nothing about the Lavender Scare, or the Cold War-era witch hunts that rooted out thousands of gay and lesbian federal employees and also brought to a screeching halt what was at the time a relatively thriving gay scene in D.C.

“It was such a significant moment in our nation’s history and in the history of our community,” Payne said to Metro Weekly in 2017. “It becomes one of those things that pisses you off that it’s not in history books.” Perfect Arrangement sheds light on that era’s dawning sense of homosexuality as a way of being rather than a psychological defect, helping to lay the groundwork for the gay rights movement.

Heather Danskin directs the production at St. Mark’s also starring Ryan Ruhl as Jim, Sam Stenecker as Bob, and Lilly McGee as Millie.

Thursday, March 2, through Saturday, March 4, at 8 p.m. At the St. Marks Episcopal Church, 301 A St. SE. Tickets are $18 to $20. Visit or call 202-854-9199.

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