For those who claim that the shelf life of that trendy trope of the effervescent gay male “best friend” of cosmopolitan urban females has expired, playwright Joshua Harmon has found a plausible new twist. In his 2015 play Significant Other, Harmon has made this clever sidekick the central character around which the females orbit.
The cast of Diversionary Theatre’s Significant Other production joyfully—no, gleefully—disported on the modest Diversionary stage under the sophisticated direction the company’s Producing Associate Anthony Methvin. The plot of Harmon’s romantic comedy is really quite simple: the enameled camaraderie of four twenty-something associates in a Manhattan advertising firm—Kiki, Vanessa, Laura and Jordan—begins to chip and fragment as each of the women finds a mate and marries, leaving the unlucky-in-love Jordan out in the cold.
In spite of this quite predictable dramatic progression of blandly parallel bachelorette parties and wedding receptions, for two solid hours Tom Zohar riveted the audience’s attention, imbuing his temperamentally timorous Jordan with irrepressible appeal and unleashing explosive emotional eruptions worthy of a fiery dramatic soprano in a verismo opera. Enabling Zohar’s star turn with apt panache, the exceptionally quick-witted female trio featured Jamie Criss as the sassy, narcissistic Kiki; Andréa Agosto as the already world-weary Vanessa, and Megan Carmitchel as the sexy but moderately empathetic Laura. Notable dramatic virtues would include Criss’s hauteur, especially her snarled zingers, and Agosto’s athletic shrugs of sheer exasperation.
Bryan Banville and Wil Bethmann suavely slipped in and out of the half dozen suitor roles—the men each of the trio lands to escort them down the aisle as well as the men who flirt with Jordan but flee after the first date. And Dagmar Krause Fields supplied gravitas and a modicum of warmth as Jordan’s widowed grandmother who occasionally drops by his apartment to supply consolation and a soupçon of advice. After a string of disappointments, she tells her 29-year-old grandson, “Look, life is a very long book!” This is as deep as Harmon gets.
Kudos to Diversionary for Justin Humphres’ smashing set—beautifully illuminated and sleekly designed floor to ceiling bookshelves that contained all the props and scenic accoutrements needed for interactions in Jordan’s apartment and the office break room, and for Joel Britt’s sensitive lighting that easily modulated from soft understatement for intimate scenes to brighter intensity for more public encounters. Elisa Benzoni’s smart contemporary costumes flattered each character, with the notable exception of the women’s wedding attire, which struck me as a perceptive caricature of the excessive banality—and future impraticality—of this genre. Director Methvin’s acute pace allowed us to catch Harmon’s crackling dialogue, but moved quickly enough lest we stop to consider how little lay beneath his smart repartee.
As worthy as Diversionary’s production of Harmon’s play is, I find Significant Other a slick but superficial stage offering. At least it is a step up from his previous play, Bad Jews, which Cygnet presented in 2017. Bad Jews struck me as something between offensive and odious—I still have not found the perfect word for its imperfection.
Diversionary Theatre opened Joshua Harmon’s “Significant Other” on June 1, 2019 and the production will run Thursdays through Sundays until June 23, 2019. Diversionary Theatre is located at 4545 Park Boulevard, San Diego.