Jordan Berman’s problem isn’t so much that he’s looking for love in all the wrong places. It’s that his three best friends are looking and finding it, while he’s striking out. What’s an unlucky BFF to do?
Joshua Harmon’s “Significant Other,” which wraps up Diversionary Theatre’s 33rd season, takes a familiar romantic-comedy premise and adds much-needed nuance by changing up the character dynamics. All four friends are attractive, pushing-30 New Yorkers who work and party hard, but Jordan (Tom Zohar) is a gay male among his three female confidants: sassy, self-involved Kiki (Jamie Criss), oft-cynical Vanessa (Andrea Agosto), and sweet, protective Laura (Megan Carmiitchel).
What’s refreshing is that Harmon’s script does not dwell upon differences in gender or sexuality. These four support, cajole and counsel each other in matters of the heart (and other, more private parts of the body), which gives “Significant Other” its playfulness. Jordan, however, is by far the most needy. Early on, he asks Laura for the little sticker off her apple so that he can have something “to touch and to cling” to him.
As Kiki, Vanessa and finally Laura find the men they’re in search of, Jordan’s failure to find one of his own intensifies his insecurity and his neurotic impulses. Zohar skillfully mingles nervous energy and vulnerability along the way, playing best off Carmitchel’s Laura, who is the most fully drawn of the three women characters. Jordan’s and Laura’s emotional confrontation at her Act 2 bachelorette party is aching and credible.
While the cast directed by Anthony Methvin is a spirited one, it’s unable to compensate for some of “Significant Other’s” false starts and tired devices. Much is made in the first act of Jordan’s obsessive interest in a co-worker (Bryan Banville), only to have the potential connection just vanish from the story by taking another job. Kiki’s seeming ambivalence about her new husband similarly is left undeveloped. Meanwhile, Jordan’s going-vague grandmother (Dagmar Krause Fields) comes and goes to ask about his social life and dispense traditional grandmotherly advice. What she bestows near the end of the play is predictable and trite.
On the upside, Facebook and emails (remember those?) figure prominently in Jordan’s search for a significant other. (If Harmon’s 2015 play was updated for today’s singles, they’d of course be texting and Instagramming.) Jordan’s humongously over the top email following up a first date, and his manic anxiety about whether to actually send it, is hilarious.
The silliness that intrudes upon the more personal, internal drama of “Significant Other” is at the same time its best entertainment: the four friends’ singalongs and gyrating dances; the reactions at the various women’s wedding receptions; the snarky exchanges about the absurdity of dating itself. Zohar, Criss, Agosto and Carmitchel are having a blast on the Diversionary stage and in these antic scenes doing so without the relationshippy navel gazing so endemic to TV and movie rom-coms.
Hopeful but not naïve, “Significant Other” suggests that love may be fickle and elusive, but it is never insignificant.
(Review originally published in the San Diego Union-Tribune on 6/4/19.)
David L. Coddon is theater critic for San Diego CityBeat