New York City Theater
Laura Pels Theater
To see “Significant Other” on Gay Pride Day is an existential experience. Have meanings changed along with labels? Does the LGBT movement, which has come so far, paradoxically still have one foot in the past? Joshua Harmon’s familiar yet achingly funny and touching comedy-drama about marriage for all or none flirts with the playwright’s concerns about tradition.
This may be the saddest comedy you’ll ever encounter. Its protagonist, Jordan Berman, in his late 20s, watches as his three best female friends pair off one by one with men they meet. As they fall in love and get hitched, Jordan becomes increasingly agitated, staring down loneliness. Unable to find a partner of his own, not hooking up with the office stud as he hopes, he feels bereft, deserted, left at the altar. Spending his life at “bachelorette parties, baby showers and weddings,” he says to one of his BFFs at one chilling point, “Your wedding is my funeral.”
Not that there’s anything wrong with Jordan. Oh, maybe, he’s a bit hyperkinetic but charmingly so. Too eager? Too particular (he doesn’t go for casual sex)? But, looking for validation, he senses time’s winged chariot at his heels, a feeling enhanced by conversations with his aging, sympathetic grandmother, who’s doggedly holding on while feeling as “useless” in her way as Jordan does in his.
Conflicts happen within the context of life’s panoply. ”It’s a long book,” says Jordan’s grandmother of existence, “and you’re in a hard chapter.” At each juncture, at each wedding of friends who are obviously more successful at commitment than he, he cannot help but wonder about his own inadequacies, leading to a monumental blowup.
Harmon’s achievement, in his scathing smash “Bad Jews” no less than here, is his ear for dialogue. Imperceptibly, you identify equally with all the characters, so well drawn are they. Chief among them of course, is Jordan, the awkward, needy young man whom Gideon Glick plays without an ounce of self-pity. When this basically shy character spews out his guts, he remains aware of his being trapped in a situation of is own making, a lesson for all.
The cast is excellent. Carra Patterson is an acerbic Vanessa, finally succumbing to her romantic side. Sas Goldberg is a brash Kiki while Lindsay Mendez as Laura, the best of Jordan’s best friends, pursues her own needs with a reluctance and empathy attuned to his. Luke Smith and John Behlmann do yeoman work as all the men in their lives, while Alice Cannon, subbing for Barbara Barrie, is a warm grandmother.
Trip Cullman’s direction is superb, maneuvering his actors so their paths criss-cross with their emotions. Mark Wendland’s multi-layer set is a wonder, encompassing what seems like dozens of locations in a restricted space.
In the end, it comes down to what it always comes down to: Find someone to go through it with you. “How many people in the history of the world die without getting what they want?” asks one of the characters. It doesn’t take the Supreme Court to figure that out.
--David A. Rosenberg
July 1, 2015