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"Significant Other" - Gay Romance for Millennials

Gideon Glick in Significant Other
(Photo courtesy of the company)

Jordan, the quirky and looking for love hero of Joshua Harrison’s new play Significant Other, can’t suppress a growing feeling of desperation that he might never meet “Mister Right.” And as this late-twentysomething watches his three best pals from college each take a trip down the aisle, Jordan panics. Maybe he’ll never find the man with whom he can share his life.

Significant Other, which opened last night at Roundabout Theatre Company’s Laura Pels Theatre, proves to be a dark romantic comedy about millennials who’ve come of age in the era of gay marriage, and just as he did with Bad Jews a few seasons back, Harrison peppers the play with biting, sometimes scabrous, humor, as well as a touch of whimsy.

Take for instance Jordan’s paean to a co-worker that he’s crushing on. After seeing the guy emerge from a swimming pool at an office party, he describes what he saw in minute detail: “His biceps have just the lightest little hint of muscle. One single vein runs up each arm in this beautiful line, like a Miro painting, not quite straight, but it draws your eyes immediately to the canvas.” It’s actually a bit rough to take such hyperbole seriously, and yet, there’s something curiously aching about it.

The same can be said of each of Jordan’s girlfriends who wed during the course of the show. Kiki, played with a sense of entitled crassness by Sas Goldberg, begins the play with a lengthy description of how she came to meet the man she’s just about to marry. She only found romance after learning to love herself. There’s something terribly off-putting about the navel-gazing that she indulges in. Still, there’s a grain of truth in it.

For Vanessa, played with dry aloofness by Carra Patterson, true happiness only comes after she dumps the married man that she’s been dating. He, of course, allowed her to have someone without really committing. What’s incredibly funny is the transformation that takes place once she’s found her mate. Hearts and flowers seem to float around her head: a tribute to Patterson’s work.

The third woman to wed, and the marriage that rocks Jordan to the core, is Laura, who, at one point, was Jordan’s roommate. Played with sensitivity and quiet command, she’s the woman who could be Jordan’s soul mate. Unfortunately, he’s not straight. Nevertheless, when she marries Tony (John Behlmann, who in a bit of terrifically conceived double-casting also plays the co-worker Jordan lusts for), it’s the final straw. He melts down and fireworks ensue at her bachelorette party.

There’s one other woman in Jordan’s life, his grandmother Helene (the estimable Barbara Barrie), and her life as a widow, only seems to accentuate the loneliness that Jordan sees before him. Even if you find true love, you end up alone should your partner predecease you.

Smoothly and fluidly directed by Trip Cullman, the show blisters repeatedly and then, tugs at the heartstrings. Along the way there are lapses into utter absurdity, like the night that Jordan spends by himself debating whether or not to click “send” on a pretty pathetic email he’s written to his co-worker. While he’s thinking about all of this, he calls each of the women. Not surprisingly, he gets each one’s voicemail. They’re doing busy with their partners.

Throughout all of this it’s up to Gideon Glick to bring the comically pathetic and painfully heartstick Jordan to life, and the performer fully embraces the character’s extremes. Theatergoers roar as he writhes on the floor pondering that email, which he really shouldn’t send and wince when he has the showdown with Laura. It’s an impressive turn that demands audiences’ attention and asks for their pity.

Harrison makes a nod to Wendy Wasserstein’s Isn’t It Romantic?, using a quote from it at the beginning of his script, and indeed, this very unromantic comedy does follow in that show’s footsteps. It also, and probably more importantly, follows in those of two other plays, Mart Crowley’s Boys in the Band, which paints a dire picture of gay men trying to make connections in the days just before Stonewall, and Harvey Feirstein’s Torch Song Trilogy, which explores how a gay man discovers love and creates a “modern family” in a world pre-AIDS. Watching Significant Other, one feels both the bleakness of Crowley’s work and the utter romanticism of Feirstein’s blending.

---- Andy Propst

Significant Other at plays at the Laura Pels Theatre (111 West 46th Street). For more information and tickets, visit: roundabouttheatre.org.