“You have obsessive tendencies,” remarks protagonist Jordan Berman’s grandmother to him. This is the key to the play. In the second act, we learn that he is in therapy, and that his dosage of anti-depressants has been increased.
Unlike the likeable, neurotic persona Woody Allen popularized in his standup comedy act, or Larry David’s enjoyable and relatable and dysfunctional characters on Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm, Jordan grows more unsympathetic, abrasive and gratingly self-indulgent as the play realistically concludes.
He is in his late 20’s, single, Jewish, gay and neurotic. He works in advertising and lives on the Upper West Side. He regularly visits his mentally declining grandmother. His three best and only friends are pleasantly conventional women with whom he went to college.
His frustrations intensify as each of them gets married. He delivers a painfully explosive speech that becomes cringe worthy, as he castigates one of them for her excessive wedding activities. There’s also an anti-Facebook rant.
Socially inept, fretting about his looks, disdaining casual sex, projecting romantic future scenarios onto the few men he does date, and having no gay friends, he is understandably single and likely to remain so. Obviously, therapy and medication aren’t working and that is the true and unexplored theme of the play.
Playwright Joshua Harmon is a graduate of Juilliard, and under commission from the Roundabout Theatre Company, Manhattan Theatre Club and Lincoln Center Theater. In his printed script, Mr. Harmon quotes from Wendy Wasserstein’s play Isn’t it Romantic. Her influence is evident as this play shares Ms. Wasserstein’s penchant for pandering to an audience through presenting characters that are “just like us,” particularly with its Jewish aspects.
It’s well constructed, the dialogue is snappy and filled with some funny one-liners. The milieu is that of upper middle class Manhattan white-collar workers. Moderately entertaining, it attempts to explore a prevalent societal issue, but is undermined by its off-putting main character and its rarified sensibility. There is minimal sex talk and that is mostly cute, rather then revelatory. Jordan rhapsodizes about a male co-worker’s body, but doesn’t extoll anything much below the waist.
The play opens with and includes several dance sequences at parties that connote the passage of time. Sam Pinkleton’s choreography is in the comically awkward style of Elaine Benes’ moves on Seinfeld.
Structured as series of short scenes, director Trip Cullman’s vigorous staging does add momentum and mines all of the comedy and sensitivity. This is on display with the strong performances that due to the material often border on shrill.
Wide-eyed, slim, quirkily good-looking, personable and with a boyish speech pattern reminiscent of Robby Benson in the 1970’s and Matthew Broderick in the 1980’s, Gideon Glick is perfect as Jordan. Perpetually blinking, pausing, stammering and twitching, Mr. Glick does faithfully bring the character to life. He is the male successor to Sandy Dennis and Amanda Plummer.
Sas Goldberg, Rebecca Naomi Jones and Lindsay Mendez all marvelously portray Jordan’s friends. Playing for, and getting the intended laughs, these excellent actresses also manage to bring humanity to their detailed characterizations.
With his imposing height, vivid facial features, striking eyes, and low-key persona, John Behlmann wonderfully depicts three characters. Two are men with whom the women are involved, and one is a taciturn co-worker Jordan is fixated with. Mr. Behlmann’s rapid versatility is accomplished and distinctive.
As a loudly dressed, stereotypical screaming queen who works with Jordan, and as a mellow spouse of one of the female characters, Luke Smith makes a fine impression with his suitably droll performance.
The most pleasurable highlight of the production is that it brings the veteran actress Barbara Barrie back to the Broadway stage. As Helene, Jordan’s grandmother, Ms. Barrie infuses every moment of her brief scenes with quiet power. Repeatedly reminiscing over the same family photographs, Barrie conveys the ravages of age with commanding straightforwardness and dry humor.
Mark Wendland’s colossal scenic design is an aesthetic and functional multi-level configuration. Offices, apartments, and nightclubs are among the locales clearly represented.
Japhy Weideman’s light design is necessarily frenetic. The numerous bursts of pop songs (Joni Mitchell is a motif) that punctuate scene transitions and minimal sound effects are proficiently realized by Daniel Kluger’s sound design.
The wide variety of the characters’ wardrobe selections is finely visualized by Kaye Voyce’s costume design.
Significant Other has been given an excellent production but that cannot compensate for its problematic core.
Significant Other (through April 16, 2017)
The Roundabout Theatre Company
The Booth Theatre, 222 West 45th, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 800-447-7400 or visit http://www.significantotherbroadway.com