Los Angeles Theater Review: SIGNIFICANT OTHER (Geffen Playhouse in Westwood)

by Samuel Garza Bernstein on April 13, 2018

in Theater-Los Angeles

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TOGETHER ALONE

Keilly McQuail and Will Von Vogt are absolutely riveting in Significant Other, Joshua Harmon’s mostly funny, sometimes sad take on the pitfalls of being the GBF (gay best friend). Both actors fearlessly explore their characters’ self-obsessions so fully and so believably, that behavior and dialogue which might grow irritating, instead stays fresh and urgent.

McQuail opens the show as Kiki, drunkenly teetering on stilettos, nattering on about how her whole life changed once she learned to love herself. It is the night of her bachelorette party. Jordan (Von Vogt) is GBF to her, as well as two other women, Laura (Melanie Field) and Vanessa (Vella Lovell). Through two acts the three women marry and drift into the next stages of their lives, leaving Jordan behind. Preston Martin and John Garet Stoker each play three roles—including the women’s grooms and a couple of infatuation possibilities for Jordan.

As the women find love, Jordan stages one epic fail after another with serial romantic attachments—relationships that exist almost entirely in his own mind. And that’s it. Three Weddings and a Funeral, with Jordan’s dreams of love in the role of the corpse.

Music and fashion vaguely lets us know that this takes place in the present day, but there is an air of nostalgia about it all. Jordan is clearly his own worst enemy and would likely remain loveless even if he had a different gender or sexual orientation, but nevertheless, the character is something of a throwback to days gone by, when love and marriage weren’t on the menu for sad homosexuals living in the shadows. (Even a lot of liberals thought of us that way.)

Jordan’s scenes with his grandmother (Concetta Tomei) also feel rooted in another time. I half-expected her to tell him everything will be okay once he meets the right girl. Tomei and Von Vogt have a nice, easy warmth, but the characters never get the chance to let their hair down.

The show seems determined to skirt genuine pathos, a choice that perhaps ups the number of laughs, but in the end is at odds with the deeper impact of Von Vogt’s soulful, emotionally naked performance. Jordan is not unlucky in love, nor is he merely a gay third wheel. His loneliness is based in habits that the playwright invents with idiosyncratic glee but doesn’t seem willing to embrace or fully explore.

Harmon also sometimes employs a dialogue technique that can undercut the importance of the individual relationships. A character will start a monologue to one character, then segue seamlessly, speaking to a different character in another setting. It is clever and fun. But if Jordan can turn from Kiki to Vanessa without skipping a beat, does that mean neither woman is specifically important to him? His need for approval and for someone to save him from his worst romantic impulses seems random. Laura is meant to be his emotional anchor, but the relationship feels transactional, as do his relationships with Kiki and Vanessa, and theirs with him and with one another. Maybe that’s the point.

Director Stephen Brackett wisely allows the actors the space and time to spread their wings, and all of them have moments when they shine. Scenic designer Sibyl Wickersheimer’s work is smart and stylish, though the one upstage-center door that serves as multiple entrances is weirdly low rent in an otherwise appropriately expensive looking set.

Significant Other makes for a curious evening. There are moments of pure bliss. Yet those moments up the ante. And wanting more is hardly faint praise.

photos by Chris Whitaker

Significant Other
Gil Cates Theater at the Geffen Playhouse
10866 Le Conte Avenue in Westwood
Tues-Fri at 8; Sat at 3 & 8; Sun at 2 & 7
ends on May 6, 2018
for tickets, call 310.208.5454 or visit Geffen Playhouse

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