Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Boston

Significant Other
SpeakEasy Stage Company
Review by Josh Garstka

Also see Josh's review of Company


Greg Maraio and Kathy St. George
Photo by Justin Saglio
Joshua Harmon's new play Significant Other is a bittersweet and often fiercely funny look at a gay man losing faith in his chance for love. Exhibit A: Jordan, our not-yet-30, still single protagonist, reads an overwritten, cringe-worthy email aloud to his three best friends (Kiki, Vanessa, and Laura) in which he confesses his significant feelings to his work crush. "Don't send it!" his friends admonish. But alone in his apartment, he hovers over that email like a tight-rope acrobat, and at the performance I saw, the audience gasped and shouted when he impulsively hit "Send."

Growing out of your twenties, watching your friends all get married, striking out in the dating pool—Jordan's character arc will feel familiar to many of us. But Harmon's writing is also very specific to a generation of gay men who've finally achieved the right to marry. Jordan wants the same nuclear American family ideal his female friends want, too; but one by one, the women find husbands while Jordan feels increasingly left behind. It's not as easy as being able to marry, even in New York City. What do you do, the play asks, if the right man isn't out there?

Harmon plays with the rules of the traditional (frankly, straight) romantic comedy. Jordan's habit of lapsing into breathless monologue is charming when he describes his work crush Will to his BFFs: an extended recount of their date (if it even was a date) to see a Franco-Prussian War documentary. But beneath the surface of this crush, we learn this is a pattern with Jordan: "obsessive tendencies," we're told. He's become over-absorbed and cyber-stalked many crushes before. And he jokes frequently about committing suicide, an eerily funny habit he likely inherited from his grandmother Helene (Kathy St. George)—one that keeps us on our toes.

The play comes to its climax at Laura's bachelorette party, where Jordan finally unleashes his building resentment and isolation in an explosive monologue to Laura. "Why are you even having this wedding?" he asks. "When did you become someone who does things because 'that's what people do?'" The author's hand feels visible here; sentiments like "Your wedding is my funeral" fall into the clich├ęs that the character means to rail against. But there's also a perverse pleasure in watching Jordan tear into the pomp and circumstance of straight wedding culture, down to the absurd minutiae of multiple engagement parties, weekend-long hotel stays, and matching bridesmaid dresses.

After two hours of Jordan's increasingly self-loathing behavior, it can feel like Harmon is hammering away at his theme too insistently. Jordan reminds everyone just how lonely he is, though he's hapless to fix that. But Greg Maraio earns a lot of sympathy by letting his clumsy-in-love character be goofy and messy and complicated. Maraio navigates Jordan's highs and lows without smoothing out the rough edges. He has a sweet rapport with St. George's grandmother; their relationship is the heart of the play, without growing sentimental. Helene is the one person who's there for Jordan unconditionally.

Of the other actors, Jordan Clark is a warm, steady foil for Maraio as his best friend Laura. And Jared Troilo is a good sport in playing Will and several other characters, including a lengthy monologue in which Jordan analyzes—OK, objectifies in passionate detail—nearly every part of his bathing suit-clad body.

Significant Other premiered in Off-Broadway in 2015, and is scheduled to open on Broadway next year. We're lucky to see Paul Daigneault's sweet production in the interim. Though he occasionally paints with broad strokes, Harmon is at his best when he lets the characters be truthful and surprising, when we feel their desperation rather than have it told to us. Much of Jordan's story resonates: friendships changing as we grow older, the fear we might not become what we thought. "How many people in the history of the world die without getting what they want out of life?," he wonders. We might not meet Mr. Right in Significant Other, but there's enough hope by the end that Jordan just might figure it out.

Significant Other is presented at SpeakEasy Stage Company through October 8, 2016, at the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont St., Boston, MA. Tickets are $25-62 and can be purchased at speakeasystage.com, by phone at (617) 933-8600, or in person at the Calderwood box office.

Cast:
Greg Maraio: Jordan Berman
Sarah Elizabeth Bedard: Kiki
Jordan Clark: Laura
Eddie Shields: Gideon/Evan/Roger
Kris Sidberry: Vanessa
Kathy St. George: Helene Berman
Jared Troilo: Will/Conrad/Tony

Creative Team:
Written by Joshua Harmon
Directed by Paul Daigneault
Scenic Design: Christopher and Justin Swader
Costume Design: Tyler Kinney
Lighting Design: Daniel H. Jentzen
Production Stage Manager: L. Arkansas Light


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