In A Chorus Line, Sheila, who’s auditioning for a part in a Broadway show, is asked what she’d like to be when she grows up.
“Young,” she replies.
Don’t be so sure, Sheila. Joshua Harmon in his new comedy-drama Significant Other reveals how lucky we are that, as Shakespeare said, “youth’s a stuff will not endure.”
At first, Harmon leads us to believe that twentysomething Kiki will be his main character, given that he starts the play with her talking non-stop to her friends Laura, Vanessa and Jordan. Kiki is a shallow as toddler’s wading pool, so after she spouts a number of inanities, she makes our blood freeze when she mentions the person she just hired at work. This ding-dong has a responsible job at a company?
No wonder Jordan says, “We’re grownups. I keep forgetting that.”
We needn’t worry about Kiki, because Harman shifts the focus to Jordan, on whom he centers for the rest of the evening. Jordan’s a gay man who would be described by a certain segment of the population as a “butch cutch” – meaning a homosexual man who pals around with straight women. His first choice of company, of course, would be to “find someone to go through life with.”
He thinks his co-worker Will can be the man. Jordan pooh-poohs the long-held advice that one should never date someone with whom you work because – first things first! — Will has the music that makes him dance. This leads to Harmon’s most entertaining scene, when Kiki, Vanessa and Laura all give Jordan advice on how to play it cool on The Night of Nights. (“Work on your laugh before the date,” urges one.)
Alas, Will might well be straight. When the two attend a film, Jordan wonders if his companion is taking it as the date he wants it to be. Or is Will simply assuming that he’s watching a movie with a colleague? Afterward, do those pregnant pauses mean anything or is Will simply at a loss for words? At the end of the night when Jordan leans in for a kiss, Will lets us see that he has no idea what’s on Jordan’s mind.
Time is given to the older generation, for Jordan often visits his grandmother Helen. Ol’ pro Barbara Barrie, who made her Broadway debut nearly sixty years ago to the day, firmly captures the character that wants to hold onto her independence but wishes she could stop feeling useless.
She isn’t. Although Helen is going senile, she comes out with good advice for Jordan every now and then. But there is, so to speak, that gay elephant in the room. Will Jordan come out to his grandmother? Does she know or at least infer about his sexual preference? Harmon handles all of this quite skillfully. (But where are Jordan’s parents through all this?)
Jordan is established as 27, a little young to have an octogenarian as a grandmother, as Barrie is. But she’s so winning no one will complain. (Fun fact: Barrie’s character is surnamed Berman, which just happens to be what the actress’ last name was before she changed it.)
While Harmon skillfully creates a full-bodied grandmother, why has he written a post-modern gay with such old-world, stereotypical values where it comes to men? Physical beauty seems to Jordan’s be be-all and end-all. After his non-connective night out with Will, why doesn’t he see that they have nothing much in common, shrug a shoulder and move on? We’d have more respect for him if he’d be looking for a genuine soulmate and not just another pretty face and super body.
Making matters worse for the lad, to paraphrase a line from a song that was popular during Helen’s salad days, those wedding bells are breaking up that ol’ gang of his. One by one, Kiki, Vanessa and Laura marry. Laura’s bridal shower happens not long after Jordan’s disappointment with Will, causing him to unleash an inordinate amount of displaced hostility on the poor lass.
Here’s where we turn against him. Whether or not Jordan’s long-winded complaint is justified, a friend’s bridal shower – one of the most joyous nights of her young life — is neither the time nor place for a so-called friend to spout off for many long minutes about having to attend “bachelorette parties, weddings and then baby showers” while “everyone grew up and left me here.” The self-pity wouldn’t be welcome at any point, but for Jordan to turn Laura’s evening into a me-me-me-centric night is horrifying and even disgusting.
But Gideon Glick amazes in the way he delivers the tirade. It’s the type of bravura performance that almost always gets an audience to applaud the moment after an actor finishes such an oration. Silence greeted this rant, because the audience was too into the situation to take itself out of the moment and applaud the performer.
At least Glick had received applause at the top of Act Two after he’d left a trio of hilarious answering machine messages for his three friends. It’s often been said that if a film actor has a good scene on a telephone, he’s an automatic candidate for an Oscar. Then Glick would seem to be a shoo-in for 2015-2016 awards from all those organizations that recognize off-Broadway performances.
The rest of the cast excels, too. Lindsay Mendez portrays the heavy-set Laura with the assurance that if her weight doesn’t bother her, it won’t bother anyone else. Sas Goldberg does have the chance for Kiki to become a bit older and wiser, and delivers on the challenge. Vanessa is the least interesting of the three, so Carra Patterson can hold her head up high for holding her own among the other characters.
Special mention, however, must go to John Behlmann and Luke Smith, each of whom plays three characters and makes every one distinct. At the curtain call, many theatergoers must have expected six men to trot out and had to be surprised to find that two actors did the half-dozen jobs.
Trip Cullman’s direction is all the more impressive considering that Mark Wendland gave him one of the most uninviting, ugly and non-functional sets in recent memory. (Well, of course, Cullman can blame himself, too, for ha obviously approved it.)
Significant Other is playing at The Laura Pels, Roundabout Theatre Company’s off-Broadway venue. This is where a younger audience is courted and expected, but plenty of Roundabout’s long-time senior subscribers climb on board, too. From the level of their laughter, they seemed moderately amused at the inanities of today’s dating scene, a gauntlet that they’re happy not to run. They reserved their biggest laugh after one young woman said that a bridesmaid’s dress can be worn again and again at another occasions.
The young people in attendance had a helluva time. And yet, everyone may have enjoyed Significant Other far more if Jordan had found someone significant and Harmon had taken it from there.