Can watching your best friends go off and get married while you are still trying to score a date lead to a nervous breakdown? It very nearly does in Joshua Harmon’s Significant Other, a sweet and sour comedic drama about millennials in their late 20s living in New York trying to make the tricky transition from post-college party life of clubs, bars and casual sex to monogamy and domesticity.
It resembles a contemporary variation of the trailblazing Sondheim musical Company in which Bobby, the eternal bachelor, is now openly gay and a bit younger. As it happens, Barbara Barrie, an original cast member of Company, has a supporting role in Significant Other. The play has transferred to Broadway following a debut two years ago at the Roundabout’s Off-Broadway space. Harmon is best known for his black comedy Bad Jews, which was produced twice Off-Broadway and is now getting plenty of regional productions.
Jordan (Gideon Glick), the protagonist, is an obsessive-compulsive, nice Jewish boy. He may lack a boyfriend, but at least he has the support of his gal pals Kiki (Sas Goldberg), Vanessa (Rebecca Naomi Jones) and Laura (Lindsay Mendez). As they find husbands, Jordan becomes increasingly frustrated by his lack of progress and scared that he may die alone. All the same, he needs to show up to their weddings, bridal showers and bachelorette parties and dutifully play the role of the good friend.
When the play premiered Off-Broadway two years ago, I found it slight, repetitive and excessively manic. I was also turned off by its lack of resolution and the static scenes between Jordan and his grandmother. On second viewing, I can appreciate it as a fully developed portrait of a shy, sensitive and self-effacing young man confronting social pressure and his own emotional needs. It also represents an attempt to build upon and flesh out the old stereotype of the gay best friend. Interestingly, the play premiered one week before the Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling.
Trip Cullman’s production also has an impressive fluidity, bouncing instantly between locations, conversations and moods. Glick (Spring Awakening, Speech and Debate) is so vulnerable and sincere that you feel compelled to jump onstage, give him a hug and find him a date – or at least introduce him to Yente the Matchmaker. By comparison, the young women are hyperactive and merry.
I find it hard to believe that there is an audience for Significant Other on Broadway, as already demonstrated by its low weekly box-office grosses. (Wouldn’t Bad Jews have had a better shot?) Young audiences are not necessarily going to come see it (they’re all too busy trying to get tickets to Hamilton), and it may not appeal to older audiences. That being said, it may have a future on college campuses and with other young theater companies.