At Theater Wit
by Dan Zeff
CHICAGO—Early last year, Theater Wit dropped a bombshell on local audiences with its scorching production of Joshua Harmon’s 2012 play “Bad Jews.” The ferocity of the dialogue was breathtaking and made the play one of the commercial hits of the season.
The success of “Bad Jews,” Harmon’s first play, naturally whetted a playgoer’s appetite for Harmon’s next play. He responded in 2015 with “Significant Other,” a kinder and gentler work that demonstrates that the playwright can write in a key other than the take-no-prisoners intensity of “Bad Jews.” That play is again at the Theater Wit in association with the About Face Theatre and validates Harmon as one of the bright young playwrights (he’s 34 years old) on the American theater scene.
Basically, “Significant Other” is a modern riff on the theme of “Wedding bells are breaking up that old gang of mine.” Jordan Berman is a gay bachelor in his late 20’s. For years he has hung out with three young women who form his social support group. Now he finds that one by one the women are getting married, and he realizes that the marriages inevitably will separate him from his lady friends who will launch fresh lives of their own that will effectively exclude Jordan. And Jordan is in a panic.
The narrative moves in and out of time and place, but the pivot event, at least in the first act, is the wedding of the self-absorbed and ditzy Kiki. Later Jordan’s friends Laura and Vanessa find mates and at the end of the play we bid goodbye to Jordan, spotlit on an otherwise dark stage, contemplating a future bereft of close companionship.
The storyline may be sorrowful, but the play is funny, though not as funny as a small group of screeching audience members found it on opening night. Jordan’s dilemma earns some honest laughs, especially when he falls for a new gay worker at his office. Jordan aches for the man, consults with his lady friends, and lays out a campaign to win the man’s attention and then hopefully build to a relationship. It’s not to be, which pains the spectator who roots for Jordan who deserves to find someone.
At one moment in the play Jordan states that he has never been loved, a remark that elicited groans of sympathy from a few spectators. The remark is especially painful because Jordan says it in such a matter of fact manner, like this is his fate in life.
The first act is wordy and meandering, but it sets the table for the final act, climaxed by Jordan exploding in anger and despair at the three women who are abandoning him for marriage. The explosion comes at the wedding of Laura who stands aghast and tearful as her friend passionately unloads all his frustration and fears at the betrayals he feels have been visited upon him by his trio of girl friends.
The Theater Wit production casts Alex Weisman as Jordan. Weisman has risen to the top of the Chicagoland actor A list, most recently winning the Joseph Jefferson Award as best actor in a play for his stunning performance in “Hand of God” at the Victory Gardens Theatre. Weisman rings all the emotional changes in Jordan’s struggle to find someone to love while staring at the painful reality that he has become an odd man out in his female-dominated circle. His lady friends don’t necessarily pick winners to marry, but at least all three have found someone.
An ensemble of outstanding complementary performers surrounds Weisman. Amanda Drinkall is perfect as the fetching Laura, who playfully agrees with Jordan that they should marry, but Laura finds her guy and Jordan stands on the outside looking in. Tiffany Oglesby is likewise excellent as Vanessa, who takes a pessimistic attitude toward life that verges on the suicidal. Casssidy Slaughter-Mason is deliciously over the top as the bizarre, comical Kiki. Ninos Baba and Benjamin Sprunger effectively play assorted young men who weave their way through the lives of Jordan and his coterie of girlfriends.
Ann Whitney appears in a few telling scenes as Jordan’s grandmother. She feels her grandson’s pain but recognizes that throughout life a person loses friends, sometimes through marriage and sometimes through death. She quietly keeps asking Jordan “How’s your social life?” and he finally firmly reports he has no social life and may never have one. The elderly lady commiserates with the lad and throws out well meaning assurances that some day his Mr. Right will come. Whitney’s performance may be small in terms of stage minutes but the character offers understated compassion and wisdom, possibly recognizing that she is about to become the only source of affection in Jordan’s life.
Director and About Face artistic associate Keira Fromm does a fine job of orchestrating the production, with its many shifts in time and place and its striking mood shifts. Jeffrey Kmiec’s minimalist set and Pauline Olesky’s props designs effectively utilize the theater’s intimate playing area. The visual input is provided by Noel Huntziner’s costume designs and John Kelly’s atmospheric lighting, complemented by Christopher Kriz’s original music compositions and sound design.
The Chicagoland theater scene will lose Alec Weisman to Broadway in the spring when he joins the cast of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” the new Harry Potter play from London now in preparation for its New York City premiere. The show has already become a hot ticket of “Hamilton” dimensions in the Big Apple. The Harry Potter play is a cinch to run for years, so we may lose Weisman locally for an indefinite period. See him while you can!
“Significant Other” runs through December 9 at the Theater Wit, 1229 West Belmont Street. Most performances are Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets are $20 to $38. Call 773 975 8150 or visit www,theaterwit.org or www.aboutfacetheatre.com .
The show gets a rating of.
Contact Dan at: ZeffDaniel@yahoo.com. November 2017
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