Lindsay Mendez and Gideon Glick in Joshua Harmon’s “Significant Other,” directed by Trip Cullman. | JOAN MARCUS
Red-hot playwright Joshua Harmon (his “Bad Jews” is currently the third most-produced play in the US) has insisted his characters are not based on actual people, not even himself. Which is all the more impressive given that the characters in his latest play, “Significant Other,” are so sharply drawn, their plights so personal and immediate, that they feel quite real. At times painfully so.
Take the gawky, socially stunted protagonist, Jordan Berman. He loves hanging in the city with his BFFs, tossing back drinks and boogying down to the aptly chosen Rihanna anthem “We found love in a hopeless place.” As embodied with heart-wrenching sensitivity by Gideon Glick (“Spring Awakening”), he’s got more twitchy neuroses than Woody Allen. Jordan is a self-deprecating gay Jewish man who relies on psychotherapy and antidepressants and wields humor like a sword.
It’s no surprise that the hyperaware Jordan has got serious body-image issues, fearful of taking off his shirt at the company pool party. Yet he has no problem rhapsodizing about his hunky new co-worker, Will, recalling in exhausting detail how the pool water dripped down his muscular body —his beguiling neck, biceps, nipples, ribs, and belly button. Or admitting that he slipped into the changing room and sniffed Will’s T-shirt and fondled his size 12 Converse sneakers.
Sure, it’s exceedingly creepy, but Glick imbues him with enough endearing charm that we forgive such puerile obsessions.
When your closest friends find love and move forward, leaving you far behind
One by one, his besties find significant others and get hitched. Kiki (Sas Goldberg) weds Conrad, a beer-swilling jerk who is totally devoted to her. Vanessa (Carra Patterson) falls for Roger, a sweet guy she got fixed up with at Kiki’s wedding. By chance, Laura (Lindsay Mendez) meets Tony, a metrosexual teacher with impossibly cute ears, during a professional development day. She hides her new man from Jordan, to spare his feelings, for as long as she can.
The women’s roles are articulated with frankness and finesse; likewise John Behlmann and Luke Smith do a nice job delineating the various boyfriend roles. Veteran actor Barbara Barrie makes a welcome appearance as Jordan’s frail, loving grandmother, seemingly his only family member available for support.
Inexplicably — and somewhat implausibly — Jordan has not one gay male friend.
In one of the play’s more poignant moments, the lonely, increasingly desperate Jordan leaves voicemails to his too-busy friends. “You guys all have guys,” he laments. “And I mean I'm almost 29 years old and no one has ever told me they love me.”
Plays just a couple of years ago might have featured gay men dreaming of a day when marriage for them is legal. Here, same-sex marriage is a given. Instead, Jordan simply dreams of a day when he might meet the man of his dreams and get married.
Like Jordan himself, “Significant Other” has a bipolar quality, with mood swings hitting hilarious highs and, without warning, devastating lows. The comic drama contemplates what to do when you discover you’re not living your best life and the horror that you may never achieve it. The proceedings are permeated with the fear of living alone and dying alone. There’s even talk of suicide.
One of Jordan’s diatribes — where he berates Laura for not inviting him to be a bridesmaid (don’t ask) — was so caustic and drawn-out it was off-putting. Cutting the rant in half might actually strengthen its impact.
Despite authentic, refreshing characterizations, the drama doesn’t completely sidestep cliché. Jordan and Laura fantasize that if they can’t snag Mr. Right, then they will simply marry each other and have kids (cue turkey baster joke).
Directed with precision by the ever-reliable Trip Cullman, “Significant Other” inventively makes use of flashbacks and fantasy vignettes, nimbly shifting from one scene to the next. Or, as a stage direction in the script puts it: “The scenes of this play should bleed into each other. Because love bleeds. Ugh.”
SIGNIFICANT OTHER | Roundabout Theatre Company, Laura Pels Theatre, 111 W. 46th St. | Through Aug. 16: Tue.-Sat. at 7:30 p.m.; Wed., Sat.-Sun. at 2 p.m. | $79 at roundabouttheatre.org or 212-719-1300 | Two hrs., 15 mins., with intermission
Following the June 27, 2 p.m. matinee performance, Brian Silva, executive director of the grassroots group Marriage Equality USA, and Laurie Davis, CEO of eFlirt Expert, which helps singles navigate the intersection of romance and technology to attract an ideal match, will lead a panel discussion about the evolution of dating and marriage.