Significant Other, a new About Face Theatre production by playwright Joshua Harmon, opened its Midwest premiere this past week at Theater Wit and will surely fill seats until December 9 when the run ends. This charming “unromantic” romantic comedy layers the drama, love and witty banter with a healthy heap of familiar characters: the doddering grandma (rendered spot on by Ann Whitney), the tragic hero, the trio of amiable yet taxing college pals, and enough weddings and bridal showers to last us all until old age. But on top of this multi-layered confection is the sweetest layer–a strong story line and hilarious dialog that never panders to the audience. What it lacks in cheap thrills and makeover scenes it gains in credibility as the relationships slowly begin to unravel and reveal the wobbly edifice of identity. Keira Fromm’s direction helps each hilarious line delivered to pop with an alarming familiarity as we meet (and recognize in our own friends) the countenances of Laura (played by Amanda Drinkall), the sweet, fallback best friend; Vanessa (Tiffany Oglesby) the friend who tells it like it is and to whom you can tell all; and Kiki (Cassidy Slaughter-Mason) the ruthless, self-absorbed pal whose narcissism enthralls. It’s all about character here, something playwright Harmon truly gets as he delves with us right down to pathos with the main character Jordan.
Jordan (played by Alex Weisman) is a lovable friend, a mid-level office worker and a college graduate who remains close to his three college buddies as he navigates his late 20s and watches as each of them seems to effortlessly find love and marriage while he struggles with his shyness, his perfectionism and obsessive tendencies, all of which set him up for failure during the only quest that matters to him, the quest to find his significant other. As a gay man, he has his work cut out for him in even identifying who is gay and dateable, let alone finding a partner. His world is small, and his dating pool seems to vacillate just between work and weekend weddings due to his inability to leave his comfort zone and his hesitance to partake in one-night-stands. He prefers instead to revel in the titillating discomfort of one-sided, fantastic crushes that give him the ability to idealize love rather than that messy business of getting to know someone.
As his search becomes more desperate, he begins to question societal expectations and how arbitrary and cruel they can be, especially towards LGBTQIA+ folks. All Jordan wants, other than true love, is to be a bridesmaid for the three women friends he dearly loves, and every time he is relegated to a reading instead as each of his friends is unwilling to confront wedding traditions and be inclusive.
Inherently a tragic figure as well as the heroic gay protagonist, his sadness and rage ultimately bubble up about societal inequalities, as his lack of power over his own life seems to increase. All of this while snarky, supportive friends listen, love him and try to help—but the process, as his grandmother later explains while discussing the multitude of useless, well-meaning advice she got after the death of her husband, is something only he can go through. Fortunately for us, as Jordan lives through these occurrences, we experience the slow building of mute rage with him; the high expectations dashed by personal limitations, the dawning reality that nothing will come easy, the stupid injustice of not having a level playing field, the anger of feeling betrayed by loved ones who don’t fully understand. It’s the death knoll of one’s 20s that charges towards each of us at some point, but with an extra blanket of complications that comes with embracing one’s queerness. Delving through layers of sweet and chiffon, it still cuts like a knife, thanks in great part to a stunning and unflinching performance by Alex Weisman.
In the end, Jordan’s tragic appeal is that he is a character who is stuck, who will have to grow in a different direction if he is to have a life, and it isn’t at all clear if he has it in him to do so. If only we could pick him up, and face him toward some ‘Queer As Folk’ fantasy world located just around some mythic corner that is full of support group buddies, whispered confessions at book club meetings and hot romances that spring up at dance halls and gay rugby matches on the weekends. Until then, we can do nothing but feel his pain.
Significant Other plays at Theater Wit, 1229 W.Belmont, Wednesdays through Sundays with tickets ranging from $28-$38.