Review: “Significant Other”

(Left to right) Cassidy Slaughter-Mason, Benjamin Sprunger, Alex Weisman, Ninos Baba and Tiffany Oglesby in a scene from Significant other. – Michael Brosilow

RECOMMENDED

Where: Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave.
When: through Dec. 9
Tickets: $20-$38
Phone: 773-975-8150

By ANNE SPISELMAN
Theater Critic

If it weren’t for Alex Weisman’s virtuoso performance, there would be little reason to see the Midwest premiere “Significant Other,” Joshua Harmon’s (“Bad Jews”) overly long, rather schematic tragicomedy about love and marriage among the soon-to-be-thirty set in the Big Apple.

In the co-production by About Face Theatre and Theater Wit, Weisman plays Jordan Berman, a young gay man who becomes increasingly desperate and angst-ridden as he sees his three closest friends from college, all women, find husbands while his own efforts come up empty. He’s onstage virtually the entire time—nearly two-and-a-half hours—and takes us on a roller coaster ride ranging from caustic wit and self-deprecating humor (he’s very self-conscious about his weight) to a raging diatribe fueled by frustration and loneliness at a perceived betrayal. What starts out like formulaic sitcom morphs into a poignant picture of a person in acute distress, and Weisman makes us empathize even as we recognize Jordan’s self pity and less admirable traits.

The play, set in the present (you can tell by all the cell phone use and explicit talk about body parts), feels like a throwback to, say, the 1990s with situations and attitudes that owe a debt to the likes of Wendy Wasserstein and television’s “Will & Grace.” It’s structured around the weddings and related rituals (bachelorette parties, baby showers) of the women, as well as Jordan’s romantic misadventures. A third thread is his visits to his sympathetic if slightly addled grandmother, Helene (Ann Whitney), who keeps asking about his love life though she may not realize he’s gay, and who offers sage if obvious advice he doesn’t find very useful.

First to snag a mate and wed is massively self-centered Kiki (over-the-top Cassidy Slaughter-Mason), followed by chronically pessimistic Vanessa (Tiffany Oglesby). Jordan goes to both those affairs with his BFF Laura (Amanda Drinkall), and they dance together after they happy couple is called to the floor. They even joke about marrying each other, so when Laura gets engaged to Tony (Benjamin Sprunger), Jordan becomes upset, even as he feels guilty about not being happy for her. He’s pushed over the edge—into unleashing that gut-wrenching tirade—by her failure to ask him to be a bridesmaid, something that’s permissible for men nowadays and that she would have done if he were a woman or she were as unconventional as she’s always pretended to be. He also dreads not having her to dance with.

Fueling Jordan’s misery are his attempts to find Mr. Right. He becomes obsessed with Will (Sprunger), the new guy at his ad agency, researching him on the internet, trying to ascertain that he’s gay, fantasizing about his body, and finally asking him out to the movies. He recounts all of this in minute detail to Laura and, to a lesser extent, Kiki and Vanessa, soliciting their often conflicting advice and trying to figure out if Will returns his affections. Harmon’s insights into romantic obsession are amusing, but these scenes go on too long, and Will simply disappears from the story when he leaves the agency for another job.

Jordan’s other encounters involve a gay co-worker who hits on him and an internet date who is both pleasant and promising until he admits he’s still hung up on his ex. Both these men are played by Ninos Baba, as is Vanessa’s husband Roger, while Sprunger also takes on three roles, so the quick changes (costumes by Noel Huntzinger) are challenging for them and potentially confusing for us.

Except for the ceiling festooned with wedding-worthy sheer white fabric and pink fake flowers, Jeffrey D. Kmiec’s scenic design is minimalist, allowing for the smooth flow of the action. John Kelly’s lighting helps, as do Pauline Oleksy’s props design and Christopher Kriz’s original music and sound design.

At one point, Jordan observes that weddings are no fun, and that’s a little how I felt about “Significant Other.” At the very least, it wears out its welcome before it’s over and might be better as a 90-minute one act.