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Sunday, November 12, 2017

Significant Other provides bittersweet laughs while desperately seeking Mr. Right



The pre-show music is what I noticed first upon arriving to see the Midwest premiere of Joshua Harmon's play, Significant Other, which is currently being presented by Chicago's About Face Theatre and Theater Wit. I assume that director Keira Fromm selected the groovy tunes, which included such early '80s hits as David Bowie's "Modern Love" and "Come On Eileen" by Dexys Midnight Runners. They transported me back to my college days, and the intermission music continued to bring up fond memories of the past. However, some of the friendships I made back then did not last once we graduated and went in different directions in life. People change and drift apart, and it's not always easy to accept. And this painful realization is what Significant Other is about.

Joshua Harmon's play is being promoted as a bittersweet romantic comedy. And Act One does provide many laughs as its protagonist, Jordan Berman, a single gay man in his late 20s, looks for his Mr. Right while watching his three best girlfriends become engaged and married. We've all seen similar storylines in both gay and straight romantic comedies over the years, and in the end, the lead usually finds a great guy or girl to love. So you might expect Mr. Harmon to follow this familiar format - but instead, in Act Two, he takes Jordan in a much darker direction. And although I'm a sucker for a happy ending, I think Significant Other is a far more interesting and thought-provoking play because Harmon decides to tell us a tale that's more "bitter" than "sweet". He is the same playwright who wrote the 2012 comedy, Bad Jews, which certainly pushed a few provocative buttons - and with his latest work, he continues to do so.

Fortunately, this Chicago production has a wonderful cast, which includes Ann Whitney as Jordan's grandmother, Ninos Baba and Benjamin Sprunger as the attractive objects of Jordan's affections, and Cassidy Slaughter-Mason, Tiffany Oglesby and Amanda Drinkall as Jordan's three friends. But since Significant Other is Jordan's story, a charismatic actor is needed in the role who can make us not only laugh but continue to care about him during his darker moments - and Alex Weisman is certainly up to this challenging task. He brilliantly walks a fine line of varied emotions in his funny and heartbreaking performance.

Significant Other only ran for 61 performances on Broadway earlier this year. I'm not surprised by this. It's not a feel-good comedy, but it will definitely make you feel something - probably many things. I felt amused, surprised and sad during the course of the evening. And it made me appreciate the friendships that I have now - and how great the music was back then.

Significant Other runs through December 9 at Theater Wit (1229 W. Belmont Avenue). Tickets are available at theaterwit.org, by calling (773) 975-8150 or in person at the Theater Wit Box Office.

Photo by Michael Brosilow.

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