BWW Review: SIGNIFICANT OTHER Explores the Search for Love at Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company
It's hard being single in your 20's in New York. It's hard watching your friends pair off and get married, leaving you behind. It's even harder to be genuinely happy for your friends as they find love while you continue to search, feeling like it might never happen for you.
Significant Other, playing at the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company through March 8th, focuses on one man's search for love and how it strains his other relationships, almost to the breaking point. After a minor Broadway run in 2017, the show has landed at MJTC in a production that is painful in its honesty yet ultimately hopeful.
Jordan Berman (Bradley Hildebrandt), the protagonist of the show, is just your normal gay man in his late 20's looking for true love - if by normal you mean overly neurotic. His search for love borders on obsessive, as he imagines in painstaking detail a relationship with a new co-worker that never really comes to fruition. While his compulsive behavior is recognizable to anyone who has had a crush, it starts to feel vaguely stalker-ish as he analyzes every text and email exchange, writing long, emotionally overwrought missives to a man he barely knows. It is awkward to watch someone desperately try to make another person love them.
In any other show, Jordan would be relegated to the stereotypical gay sidekick. Yet playwright Joshua Harmon brings Jordan's character front and center, turning his three straight female BFFs into the sidekicks, and boy, are they stereotypical! Kiki is the brash mouthpiece of the group. Her moments on stage are cringey yet completely recognizable - we all have that "one friend" who sucks up all the air in the room. Played with gusto by Olivia Wilusz, the show comes alive when she is on stage. Friend Vanessa (Audrey Park) is the angsty one, who doesn't believe in love and is proud of her sarcasm and edge - that is, until she meets a man and turns into a swoony bride-to-be. Jordan's ride-or-die is Laura (Chloe Armao), the plain schoolmarm, and they imagine a life together as platonic soulmates, assuming they will never find true love. Jordan watches as each of them fall in love and get married, and his growing jealousy becomes agonizing to watch. When Laura falls in love, Jordan feels abandoned by the one person he thought would always be by his side. Their fight in Act II is explosive, intimate and at times hateful, and both actors attack their lines with an intensity that makes you feel their hurt and betrayal in every word.
It's hard to relate to Jordan. He comes off as whiney and self-absorbed, and it's unclear why all these women love him so much. It's a credit to the actor playing him that by the end of the show, you start to feel some small bit of empathy as he begins to come to terms with the fact that his happiness can't come from others, but must come from within himself. When Jordan's grandmother (played with sweet fogginess by Nancy Marvy) says, "It's a long book, Jordan. You're in a tough chapter," he realizes that he has time and doesn't have to be in such a rush to find love. It will find you, when you least expect it.
Director Hayley Finn does nice work keeping the pace of the show brisk. While many scenes felt perfunctory, Finn moves them along just fast enough to keep the audience engaged. The small, minimalist set is designed by Michael Hoover. It's utilitarian style reminds me of Bunny Christie's set design for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time on Broadway. Hidden pocket shelves in the walls are ingeniously used as storage for prop glasses full of alcohol, a coffee maker, or even a bookcase. Costume design by Rubble and Ash is simple yet effective, bringing each character's personality to life - I especially like how the wedding dresses seem tailor-made for each of the three brides.
Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company, celebrating their 25th Anniversary season, is nationally recognized as the preeminent, independent professional theater in the United States focusing on Jewish history and culture. You don't have to be Jewish to enjoy a show at MJTC. The themes and issues they showcase in every production are universal and can resonate with anyone, of any age, gender, race or religion. Significant Other is a show that follows one man navigating the path to love - and can't we all relate to that?
Photo Credit: Sarah Whiting