BWW Review: SIGNIFICANT OTHER: Wedding Bell Blues
Written by Joshua Harmon, Directed by Paul Daigneault; Scenic Design, Christopher & Justin Swader; Costume Design, Tyler Kinney; Lighting Design, Daniel H. Jentzen; Sound Design, Lee Schuna; Production Stage Manager, L. Arkansas Light
Performances through October 8 by SpeakEasy Stage Company at the Roberts Studio Theatre in the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, Boston, MA; Box Office 617-933-8600 or www.SpeakEasyStage.com
Greg Maraio is a likable guy, a guy you want to root for and see good things come his way. Well, by all accounts, he is in the midst of a very good thing playing Jordan Berman, the lead character in Significant Other, a new comedy by playwright Joshua Harmon (Bad Jews). SpeakEasy Stage Company is presenting the New England premiere prior to its scheduled Broadway run in February, 2017, and, under the insightful direction of Producing Artistic Director Paul Daigneault, it offers a cornucopia of talented players, pointed humor, and poignant commentary on the universal human condition.
Some critics have been calling this a breakout role for Maraio, but I think they're late to the party. He was stunning in SpeakEasy's Casa Valentina (2015) and has been on the rise in the Boston theater community in recent years. However, that takes nothing away from how terrific he is in Significant Other. He makes Jordan eminently likable, despite his neurotic tendencies, and fully realizes the many sides of the 29-year old single gay man, desperately seeking his soul mate. His relationships with his supportive grandmother (Kathy St. George - we should all have such a nana), his three best girlfriends (Sarah Elizabeth Bedard, JorDan Clark, Kris Sidberry), and the less-than-satisfactory men (Jared Troilo, Eddie Shields) who parade through his life, are all authentic and recognizable.
Significant Other works so well, in part, because of the believability of the situations and the truthful way in which Harmon has written them. His words are spoken with natural ease by the ensemble of young performers who happen to represent the demographic which they portray, while St. George (Helene Berman) stands in for everyone at the far end of the spectrum. The young'uns fear the loneliness of being alone as their friends partner up and get married; Grandma's loneliness is the by-product of a life well-lived as she comes to terms with the losses of her significant other and friends. When Jordan and Helene compare notes, it is simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking because Maraio and St. George wear their hearts on their sleeves.
Bedard, Clark, and Sidberry are a dynamic trio, each of whom avoids the trap of playing their character like a cliché. Kiki is a bit of a wild child/loose cannon, the first among them to find a guy. She speaks her mind without too many filters, drinks a little too much, and appears to settle for someone who is not her equal. However, Bedard sneaks in just enough vulnerability to make her likable. Vanessa is classy, but seems destined for unhappiness. When she is blindsided by love, Sidberry does a convincing turnaround that shows her character's surprise and gratitude.
Laura is to Jordan as the Scarecrow is to Dorothy. They share a special closeness, perhaps related to each of them doubting that they'll ever find a romantic partner. Theirs is the kind of relationship where they promise to marry each other if they remain single when they reach a certain age. When she unexpectedly finds love and leaves Jordan as the last man standing, it puts immense pressure on their friendship. Maraio is blistering when Jordan goes on a rant at Laura's bachelorette party. For her part, Clark has to stand there and take it, until she finally blurts out an emotional, yet controlled response. The two of them are captivating in one of the most riveting scenes in the play.
Troilo and Shields each play three characters, the love interests of the women and Jordan's objects of desire. With his matinee idol good looks, Troilo is well-suited as Will, the new guy in the office whose sexuality is yet-to-be-determined. Jordan's obsession with him leads to some uncomfortable moments, but they are fun to watch. Troilo glides seamlessly between the smooth, detached Will, the taciturn Conrad, and Tony, the guy who will make Laura happy. Following his impressive turn in Casa Valentina, Shields skillfully differentiates three guys who are not equally defined. Vanessa's mate Roger is sophisticated and laid back, while Evan is an animated hipster. Shields really sinks his teeth into Gideon, the office flamer whose most frequent utterance is "Omigod!"
Daigneault has recruited a consummate team of designers to create the contemporary world of Harmon's play. The set by Christopher and Justin Swader is white and minimalist, with a couple of doors and cubby holes cut into it for utilitarian purposes. A bench suggests a museum, a counter serves as the office break room, and a curtain conceals the homey corner space reserved for scenes with Helene. Daniel H. Jentzen's lighting design, combined with Sound Designer Lee Schuna's music selections, successfully alter the atmosphere for Jordan's apartment, the clubs where the friends have their bachelorette parties, office scenes, weddings, etc. Costume designer Tyler Kinney hits the right notes for these young people in Manhattan.
Significant Other is not the first play to look at issues of loss and loneliness, and I doubt that it will be the last. The theme doesn't wear out because everyone has their individual experiences and can find a way to relate. What Harmon and his characters offer are a range of responses and strategies that are not necessarily unique to them, but that are informed by who they are and what they're looking for in life. The playwright created a set of interesting, likable characters, and the SpeakEasy Stage cast works their magic to bring them alive with all of their flair, flaws, and, most especially, heart.