Theatre Review by Matthew Murray - March 2, 2017
Significant Other by Joshua Harmon. Directed by Trip Cullman. Choreography by Sam Pinkleton. Scenic design by Mark Wendland. Costume design by Kaye Voice. Lighting design by Japhy Weideman. Sound design by Daniel Kluger. Cast: Gideon Glick, John Behlmann, Sas Goldberg, Rebecca Naomi Jones, Lindsay Mendez, Luke Smith, and Barbara Barrie.
Jordan's struggle is pretty basic: His three best girlfriends, Kiki (Sas Goldberg), Vanessa (Rebecca Naomi Jones), and Laura (Lindsay Mendez), with whom he spends every day texting, every night on the phone, and every weekend clubbing, are finding men who are taking them away from himbut he's unable to do the same. Thrust into a series of increasingly tense engagement parties and weddings, he's forced to face not just his own loneliness and doubts of ever settling down, but the prospect of having to be the eternal third wheel among those who previously always wanted him in the passenger seat. The only woman who's permanently devoted to him is his grandmother, Helene (Barbara Barrie), and she's wasting away before his eyes.
Harmon, Glick, and director Trip Cullman transcend these specifics, however, capitalizing on the anguish of being lost amid the familiar, wherever it might be found. Even as Jordan descends deeper into despondency, he never loses himself within his own insecurities. He represents all of us, in both the way he faces challenges and, sometimes, in the way he succumbs to them. He's enterprising, resilient, and resourceful, but not unbreakable, and his constant striving to hold himself together, even when his best friends pull him apart, will be recognized by anyone who's had to put on a brave face to cover a shattering heart. (Which, last I checked, is everyone to some degree or another.)
Much of this is contained in Harmon's writing, which is just as blunt as (if more angled toward comedy than) that in his breakthrough play, Bad Jews. It's blissfully funny in the way it outlines Jordan as a dizzy obsessive, the kind who will agonize for literally hours over whether or not he should send a fraught, purple e-mail to the crush with whom he went on a non-date date to a documentary about the Franco-Prussian War. But Jordan's pain is genuine and his rage crystalline as he sees the direction in which he's headed, and Harmon is no less adept at capturing this in dialogue and speeches that strike a keen balance between contemporary millennial-speak and urban poetry.
Although Harmon has painstakingly chiseled Jordan, he's accomplished no less with the other characters, strongly differentiating the three women and their various boyfriends (and eventually husbands), plus the other men in Jordan's life. (These roles are all played, beautifully, by Luke Smith and John Behlmann.) Cullman's staging could be sharper; it comes across as hamstrung on an imagination-drawn unit set (designed by Mark Wendland and lighted by Japhy Weideman) that doesn't fit in as well on Broadway as it did at the Laura Pels Theatre, where the play premiered (with mostly the same cast) in a Roundabout production in 2015, and ought to make more use of the space at its disposal.
But Cullman has guided his actors toward well-calibrated Technicolorful performances that are elevated just a stitch, as if to emphasize the epic severity of the challenges Jordan is confronting. The best of the support is Mendez, whose Laura is as loving as she is sensitive when she can be, and hurtful and betrayed when she must be, with all the feelings emanating from her bottomless love for Jordan. And Barrie captivates with her slightly dizzy, slightly scary, and slightly scared portrayal of a woman who's too aware of how out of time she's become. But everyone is terrific, striking serious and comedic notes alike with masterful facility.
That scene is one of the most complex and moving I've ever seen an actor give onstage, but Glick ensures that it does not occur in isolation. It's the unavoidable culmination of everything that's come before: a toxic cauldron of personal realization, the ultimate destination of a journey neither Jordan, nor any of us, ever wants to make. It's an airtight fusion of actor and part on one level, but beyond that is a chilling reminder from Harmon that our existence is not always within our control. That's the only place Jordan can find solace; and if you're suffering from even a minor variation of his problems, chances are you'll find it there, too.
"It's a long book," Helene tells Jordan at one point. "You're in a tough chapter. And you don't know when this chapter will end and the next one will start. But the book is long." It is indeed, and that perspective is critical for him as well as us. But with all the brilliance at work here, Significant Other passes briskly, not so much showing the losses of one man as showing us how we can, and must, remain significant even when we feel as though we're anything but.