|Rubio Qian, Kyle Cameron, Hayley Lovgren & Nicole-Azalee Danielle|
‘Always a bridesmaid and never a bride’ is difficult enough to swallow if you’re the near-thirty-something who is feeling the impact of that cliché, but what if you would at least like to be a bridesmaid but your besties never ask you? For Jordan Berman, that is his Catch 22. Not only is he twenty-nine and no one has yet to say, “I love you” to him, he is never asked to be the bridesmaid he would really like to be.
He is also a living example of another over-used cliché – the ‘gay best friend’ – who is watching his three best girl friends one-by-one marry while he can only try his best grin it and bear it – or not. In the meantime, he keeps striking out trying to meet ‘Mr. Right,’ leaving him to wonder, “How many people die without finding what they want in life? How do you know if you are going to be one of them?”
In Joshua Harmon’s Significant Other, Jordan brings us to tears laughing at his obsessive, frenetic, let’s-just-call-‘em manic efforts not to be the last single person standing among his little clique. But we also have trouble holding back tears when we begin to understand along with him that this comedy of his life may not end happily – at least not tonight. Lauren English directs the San Francisco Playhouse production with no-holes-barred hilarity and zaniness while at the same time, with genuine empathy for a dilemma that more Millennials than just Jordan – gay, straight, male, female – experience as they constantly go to engagement parties, showers, bachelor(ette) parties, and destination weddings with none of them being their own.
|Rubio Qian, Kyle Cameron & Nicole-Azalee Danielle|
When Jordon is with his girlfriends, there are clearly no limits to the sheer silliness, the lovingly targeted jabs, or the number of group hugs of their cackling-filled, back-and-forth banter. Even with the pending marriage of overly loud and ego-centered (but totally endearing) Kiki (Hayley Lovgren), the bonds between the foursome appear forever-locked in support, love, and late-night gossip over the telephone. But as Jordan, Vanessa, and Laura watch Kiki’s first dance at her wedding and hilariously dance as a threesome on the sidelines, their longing, half-depressed looks toward the couple signal that it is never going to be the same, no matter what Kiki has promised them.
Next to go is the ever-cynical, quickly critical Vanessa (Nicole-Azalee Danielle) who readily admits she has never been a happy person – that is until she meets Roger. Along come another set of parties and another wedding dance to watch – this time leaving Jordan and his most faithful, most down-to-earth buddy, Laura, to dance alone.
|Rubio Qian & Kyle Cameron|
But even that is not so bad for Jordan since Laura (Ruibo Qian) is the one to whom he has already suggested, “We should just marry each other.” After all, he surmises, “I could cook for you … rub your feet … buy you magazines.” The two even imagine the two kids named Noah and Irma they will have – minus any actual sex together, of course – and they have already picked out their wedding song: “Because You Loved Me” by Celine. (Their duet of the song is a campy highlight of the evening.)
But when even Laura has found her dreamboat and wants everyone to show up in North Carolina for her wedding, all Jordan can do is hug himself with crossed arms on his chest, crying defiantly, despondently, “It’s enough; I’ve had enough.”
|August Browning & Kyle Cameron|
It is not that Jordan has not tried along the way to lasso his own hope for the future. Work-mate Kiki conspires with him to meet the new guy at their company, hunky Will, — whom she assures, “He looks gay.” Jordan even gets to see Will near-naked at the gym – dripping wet – leading to a deliciously directed scene where Jordan describes in a phone call to Laura every detail he has memorized about Will (chest hair like dandelions that you can just blow away, shoulders shaped like knees, nipples red hard, etc.). All the time as he talks to Laura, we see Jordan circling within inches of an oblivious Will (August Browning) and his buff-built body.
The ups-and-downs of Jordan’s forays with Will as well as with another guy (Gideon, played by Greg Ayers ) where a first kiss sends Jordan into momentary, orbital bliss are recounted with ecstatic squeals, pogoing jumps, and fit-flying fingers and hands in phone calls to girlfriends where the call and the meeting/date with-said boy occur simultaneously in parallel, over-lapping scenes. Kyle Cameron leaves untried and unexpressed no emotional outburst; no dimension of physical movement; and no degree of sudden panic, frustration, or ensuing depression as he portrays a Jordan who sees everyone he loves finding wedded bliss while he keeps going home empty-handed at night. At one point, he even asks Kiki at work to give him the sticker off the apple she is about to eat, pitifully saying, “I need something that will stick to me and cling to me right now.” After watching his roller-coaster ride of emotions and feeling with him what it is like to be the one at the dance not yet picked, it would be near impossible to imagine a better casting for the part of Jordan than is Kyle Cameron.
|Joy Carlin & Kyle Cameron|
Both Messieurs Browning and Ayers play several boyfriend and husband parts. They are joined by the final member of this talented cast, Bay-Area-revered Joy Carlin as Helene Berman, grandmother to Jordan. The aging Helene – whose memory is beginning to elapse – has enough wherewithal to offer both wonderful humor and wise observations to her grandson. When he tells her that with all the marrying, it feels like “my friends are dying,” she suggests with that special twinkle that only grandmothers can have for their favorite grandson, “Don’t worry … They’ll all come back when their husbands die … They’ll want to play Mahjong.” But it is her advice to Jordan when he is at his lowest that is actually the underlying, impactful moral of Joshua Harmon’s brilliantly scripted play, “It’s a long book, Jordan; you’re just in a tough chapter.”
Scenic designer Jacqueline Scott’s massive, mauve walls with a broken line of bright neon encompass an otherwise mostly empty stage where various light fixtures lower while scenic elements appear from the walls or through various doorways in order to establish coffee bars, wedding parties, or Jordan’s lonely apartment. Wen-Ling Liao’s lighting plays an enormous role in establishing scenes of party craziness as well as of Jordanian loneliness and despair, with gigantic, upside-down shadows of Jordan also lingering on the tall, back walls seemingly to illustrate his internal unease. Teddy Hulsker adds an array of musical interludes as part of his highly effective sound design while the costumes of Randy Wong-Westbrooke offer a lavish and detailed spectrum of finishing touches that often are eye-popping in color and style.
The energy generated from the stage during the two hours of our watching Jordan’s life and its many mini-crises seems enough to light an entire city. However, even with the inspired direction of Lauren English, there is from time to time a feeling like we have seen this scene before, with the frenzied reactions of Jordan et al being a bit too much. However, we are only talking a few seconds here and there – never minutes – with the end result being another San Francisco Playhouse powerhouse of an evening of live theatre. Joshua Harmon’s Significant Other is not the typical fairy-tale-ending, romance comedy but is instead a hilariously funny but empathically and touching look at what it means today to be twenty/thirty-something, wedding after wedding after wedding of your friends.
Rating: 4 E
Significant Othercontinues through June 15, 2019 at San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post Street. Tickets are available at http://sfplayhouse.org/ or by calling the box office at 415-677-9596.
Photos by Jessica Palopoli.
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