So far this certainly hasn’t been a dramatic year for plays on Broadway, but thankfully a new batch has begun to open or start previews. One of these shows, “Significant Other,” by Joshua Harmon and directed by Trip Cullman (located at the Booth Theatre) provides some new hope that this season can still surprise us and have some good plays, too. While the musicals all may have some mass spectacle or celebrity to draw in the audiences, plays have a much harder job; especially small plays like “Significant Other” made up of a mostly unknown cast. So before anything starts this play had a lot of work to do just to get audiences, and once the audiences arrive they have a lot to prove. After all, they have to make this ticket worthwhile; any given audience member could have been seeing “Sunset Boulevard,” after all.
The play starts Gideon Glick as Jordan the single gay friend (pun intended) to Kiki (as Goldberg, Broadway debut), Vanessa (Rebecaa Naomi Jones, “American Idiot”), and Laura (Lindsay Mendez, “Wicked”). Throughout the show Jordan must sit patiently and politely as Kiki, then Vanessa, then Laura all find a man, have a bachelorette party and then having a wedding. Throughout it all, Jordan is the gay best friend; he’s there but he is also an outsider. He knows he isn’t really part of all this wedding stuff. While all three girls get to be bridesmaids for each other, Jordan just gets to watch. While each gets to bring their latest boyfriend, fiance, or husband to the weddings, Jordan isn’t even allowed a plus one.
This play may seem familiar, like a Katherine Heigl romantic comedy musing on “always a bridesmaid never a bride.” But this play is so much more than that, it is a deep exploration of the gay male experience, the loneliness, and the feeling of exclusion within the heteronormative world. Weddings, of course, can be such a painful reminder that the world was made for straight people. Although same-sex marriage is legal now it’s still impossible to ignore the fact that the entire sacrament and ceremony was designed by and for heterosexual people. Even in the age of gay weddings, Jordan isn’t allowed to be a bridesmaid. Even in 2017, each bride tries to set up Jordan with the one other gay guy invited to the wedding. Even now, most straight people seem oblivious about what it’s like to live the world as a queer person.
The play also provides a lot of nuance on the gay experience outside of weddings, like in social settings or at the office. Often Jordan finds himself to be one of the only gay people, lacking people who can really empathize with what he is feeling. His female friends can never understand his depression, anxiety, paranoia, and desperation about finding a boyfriend, his obsession over a crush, or his fear about losing his friends to their future husbands. They simply don’t get it. They can’t get it.
Though Jordan patiently accepts his sidekick role in the never-ending process of weddings his female friends go through, by the end of the show he snaps. At his third (and best) friend’s bachelorette party, he gets emotional and decides to leave. When Laura confronts him, he yells at her, giving her a whole lecture on how demanding and unfair it is to expect him to pay for gifts, plan parties, fly out to the wedding, smile, not be in the wedding, not bring a plus one, and dance alone. He finally snaps and rants about the gay experience, trying to make her understand what he is going through. In response, she angrily points out that this is her wedding and her moment and Jordan needs to be supportive and not make it about him. Even after he fully explained his struggles as a gay man, she still doesn’t get it.
Overall the acting was not the best performances and the whole cast certainly could use a little more experience. The same can be said of the playwright, who managed to the right a very important, hilarious, and touching play but could use some help when it comes to dialogue, structure, and characterization. The sets by Mark Wendland, costumes by Kaye Voyce, Lighting by Japhy Weideman, and Sound by Daniel Kluger were all extremely beautifully done, perfectly allowing each scene to bleed into the next.
That climactic scene between Mendez and Glick is probably the best-acted part of the show. Of course, Golberg and Jones can be incredibly comedic as well. In fact, this show was extremely funny and provided some new hope for the role of comedic plays on Broadway. It also blurred the line between comedy and tragedy so expertly: the audience started the show laughing at Kiki drinking telling everyone she LOVES them at her bachelorette party and ended it crying seeing Jordan alone as all his friends danced with their husbands at a wedding. This genre duality was not a probably but made the play even more effective and realistic. Sometimes life if funny and sometimes it’s tragic. Sometimes we find the perfect guy and get married. Sometimes we can’t find our significant other and have to cry at weddings when we see everyone else happy. This significant play manages to explore all that and more, giving insight into the gay experience and providing some much-needed education to the characters and audience alike.