A 'perfect Arrangement' In An Era Of Secrets (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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A 'Perfect Arrangement' In An Era Of Secrets

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:09
Welcome to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and this week we're talking about something you can make, you can keep, you can even carry to the grave, secrets.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1

00:00:18
A secret is…

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1

00:00:19
I haven't had sex with a woman in about a year.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2

00:00:22
My family had alcoholism.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2

00:00:24
My sexuality.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3

00:00:26
I guess that I'm not sure that I really want to go to law school.

SHEIR

00:00:30
Those were some of the secrets we heard from Washingtonians around town. And over the next hour we'll bring you even more stories about the clandestine, the covert, the down-low and the hush-hush.

SHEIR

00:00:45
We'll hear about the hidden side of a prominent D.C. politician.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3

00:00:48
Well, he kept it secret from the public and really from all but his doctor, his wife and his very closest friend.

SHEIR

00:00:57
And we'll hit the water to hear secrets from down below.

MR. CHUCK FITHIAN

00:01:00
So that myth kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger, and maritime historians refuted it, but the myth kept getting bigger. And that's what led to the discovery.

SHEIR

00:01:15
But first, we're going to shine a spotlight on a secret that more than 60 years ago was a reality for many people in Washington and around the country.

"NORMA"

00:01:24
You want to keep a picture of Millie on your desk, Bob, go right ahead. If I have to throw away, "Oh, my darling, Jim," to the girls at the coffee counter, no real harm. But lately, we're living a falsehood full time and it is exhausting. I mean, we don’t even get to have the real relationships we're supposed to be protecting because we have to be show ponies for the safety and comfort of the people we can't stand.

SHEIR

00:01:48
This is a scene from Perfect Arrangement, a play premiering at the 6th annual Source Festival in Northwest, D.C. Perfect Arrangement takes place in Georgetown. The year is 1950. McCarthyism is creeping its way through the government, and the U.S. Department of State has begun purging suspected homosexual, or deviants, as they're called, from the department's ranks. The belief, you see, is that the so-called questionable morals of these individuals might make them more susceptible to communism.

"NORMA"

00:02:15
Every poor bastard that you fire has to walk right by my desk, sobbing and destroyed. And I sit there staring at my wedding band feeling every inch the fraud I am. And today, that got to me. When Oswald Nees (sp?), who you know is not a damn fag, walked out sobbing with his life destroyed, unemployable, fired for something that isn't true for him, but is very true for the four of us, that just got to me.

SHEIR

00:02:44
This character is Norma, a State Department staffer who's entered the supposedly perfect arrangement of the play's title. Norma is married to Jim Baxter, a plucky young high-school teacher. And next door are the Martindales, Millie, a fastidious homemaker, and Bob, Norma's boss at the State Department. But that's where the falsehood Norma mentioned comes in. Because the whole thing is a lie. Norma and Millie are actually lovers, as are Jim and Bob.

MS. LINDA LOMBARDI

00:03:12
I think I fell in love with it when I read the stage direction that they come and go to each other's apartments through a closet. I was like, okay, I'm in.

SHEIR

00:03:21
Perfect Arrangement director Linda Lombardi says something else that attracted her to the play, its politics.

LOMBARDI

00:03:26
The time period of 1950 and McCarthyism and the whole persecution of the other, and then there's the humanity of these characters and in their real relationships they are grounded. In their pretend relationships they are mayhem and insanity. And it's just a really beautiful amount of insanity.

SHEIR

00:03:47
Insanity. And as we heard Norma say before, plenty of show-ponying as a pair of aw-shucks-golly-gee-all-American couples. Take the opening scene, where Bob's boss, Theodore Sunderson and his wife Kitty join Bob and Millie and Norma and Jim for dinner at one of the apartments.

"KITTY"

00:04:02
You're such a card, Bob, an absolute card.

"NORMA"

00:04:06
Don't encourage him, Mrs. Sunderson. He goes on with those zingers all day at the office.

"BOB"

00:04:10
I've got a million of them.

"MILLIE"

00:04:12
Oh, he does, he really does.

"JIM"

00:04:14
I'm not missing anything good, am I?

"NORMA"

00:04:16
Oh, no, darling. Bob's telling jokes.

"JIM"

00:04:18
Oh, golly, let me know when it's over.

"BOB"

00:04:21
Jim, where are those Baxter specials you promised?

"JIM"

00:04:24
Coming right up. Hey, Millie, where do you keep the olives?

"MILLIE"

00:04:26
Check the icebox.

"JIM"

00:04:27
Of course, that's Capitol. Coming up, folks.

MR. ANDREW KELLER

00:04:31
You have these people who have more progressive ideas than their society allows.

SHEIR

00:04:36
Andrew Keller plays Bob Martindale.

KELLER

00:04:38
For me it's really interesting seeing how they're very different from the society, but also how the society still has its claws in them.

SHEIR

00:04:46
And not only that, says Natalie Cutcher, who portrays Norma, but playwright Topher Payne has done an excellent job of making these characters' issues resonate with anyone.

MS. NATALIE CUTCHER

00:04:56
Something that Topher said when we met him was that the play focuses on the moment right before these characters really take ownership of themselves. And that is something that every single person goes through, whether you're gay, whether you're straight, whether you're yadda yadda yadda.

"MILLIE"

00:05:10
I'm sorry. I know this is hard.

"NORMA"

00:05:12
You know, I don't know how much longer this can last.

"MILLIE"

00:05:15
This arrangement gives us a lot of freedom that other people don't have. I love our life.

"NORMA"

00:05:19
When we're home. Alone. When we're home alone I love our life. When we're out getting manicures with Kitty Sunderson and gossiping about our husbands, I am frankly underwhelmed by my existence.

"MILLIE"

00:05:35
Everyone puts on a public face, Norma. People are entitled to private lives.

"NORMA"

00:05:39
Yeah: Private lives, not secret.

SHEIR

00:05:42
And that delineation between private and secret, director Linda Lombardi says many same-sex couples today often feel pressured to opt for the latter.

LOMBARDI

00:05:50
I mean, we're wrapped up in marriage equality right now. And the fact that we're still at a place where someone else thinks they have the right to question and decide who should be able to get married.

SHEIR

00:06:04
Government statistics show that 54 State Department workers were fired for suspected homosexuality in 1950, 119 in 1951, and 134 in 1952. The number of dismissals for more straightforward security concerns during the same years barely even compare, 12, 35 and 70, respectively. Department officials promised they would only investigate people suspected of homosexuality after developing a strong case against them. But we now know many findings were based on information that was really subjective, like how a person spoke, or behaved, or just plain looked.

SHEIR

00:06:41
As one veteran courier recalled, during the McCarthy Era, everyone was presumed to be a little light on his feet until proved otherwise.

SHEIR

00:06:58
Perfect Arrangement is just one of two-dozen theatrical events in this year's Source Festival, which runs from June 7th through the 30th at Source, in Northwest D.C. For a complete schedule of festival events, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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