Susan Lieberman’s award winning "Arrangement for Two Violas" at the Bloomington Playwrights Project is a love story between two male doctors in 1938. Peter played by Drew Bratton is a naïve country doctor. His youthful marriage to a hometown sweet heart went down to failure, unconsummated. Peter knows that he’s attracted to men, but he’s a forty year old virgin, relatively happily closeted, safely practicing in a small Wisconsin town. Henry, Lee Parker, is an older, highly esteemed big city specialist in Milwaukee. Unlike Peter, he’s an experienced sexually assertive homosexual, though he too hides his orientation. Despite the freer atmosphere of a big city, Henry has more than a few scars to prove how dangerous his life style can be.
Though the love affair between two men faces unique obstacles in society, "Arrangement for Two Violas" focuses on love’s familiar ups and downs. Peter is younger than Henry both in age and experience. There’s the issue of distance. Henry can’t understand why Peter won’t give up his country practice to move to the city. Each would like more of the other’s limited time. There are spats, misunderstandings. At first Peter is simply overwhelmed by Henry, but as their relationship deepens he begins to need some of his own space. Henry predictably becomes jealous. Love between men seems to have many of the hallmarks of love between men and women.
One of the reasons that Peter wants to keep up his small town practice and existence is his friends, Karl and Nan Schuler, Gerard Pauwels and Gail Bray. The Schulers are an older couple, they run a small newspaper. Karl is proud that over the years they’ve taken some chances with their advertisers in championing liberal causes. Peter thinks they might accept his relationship with Henry. Henry is sure that they won’t.
The test in "Arrangement for Two Violas" accidentally happens at a reception after a big city concert that Nan eagerly, and Karl reluctantly, have come to as guests of Peter and Henry. It begins quite innocently and almost seems a joke. As Karl is getting coffee, Peter asks him to get a cup for Henry with two and a half sugars. Karl is shocked and says that no man knows how another man takes his coffee, only a wife,. The realization is more than he can handle. Despite Nan’s more generous response that she’s happy to see Peter happy, nothing will do but for Karl to leave, and Nan reluctantly follows him.
Sue Lieberman’s play does emphasize the common elements of love’s passions, but despite its setting back in 1938 the unique obstacles to love between men seem to find plenty of echos in our own time. The production of this neat little play is directed by Richard Perez. Lee Burckes’ lighting nicely focuses the audience’s attention. The interweaving of viola duets by Bach and Telemann by board operator Caitlin Moroney through the production helps both tone and pace. The play is very well acted by all. Audiences I suspect will find Drew Bratton’s Peter the more attractive of the doctors and will want to take Gail Bray’s Nan Schuler home with them.
You can find an interview with director Richard Perez on our Arts Interviews page .