Playwright Joshua Harmon adds a quick note just under the character descriptions in his script for Significant Other: “The scenes of this play should bleed into each other. Because love bleeds. Ugh.”
Significant Other is a play about love— discovering it, losing it, and the possibility of never finding it—and a gay, Jewish, late-20something named Jordan Berman, who is desperate to experience it. He tries, but love just seems to avoid him, while his three closest friends and their ideal partners, and get married. For Jordan, it’s all happening too fast.
Significant Other premiered Off-Broadway to critical acclaim in 2015, and has now transferred to the Booth Theatre. Reprising their roles are Gideon Glick as Jordan, Barbara Barrie, John Behlmann, Sas Goldberg, Lindsay Mendez, and Luke Smith. New to the company is Rebecca Naomi Jones.
“When I first read the play, I was reeling from a horrific breakup. I was in this place of acute despair and numbing anxiety. ‘What if I never find someone else and that was it?’” recalls director Trip Cullman. “I remember relating so intensely to the expressions of loneliness that Jordan has.”
Make no mistake: Significant Other is a comedy. But a lot of the laughs come at the expense of the characters’ happiness, none more so than Jordan’s.
Harmon says that he never intended for Significant Other to be a comedy. “I honestly thought that I’d written the saddest play,” he says. “I don’t write thinking about the comedy. I am genuinely always surprised when something winds up being funny.”
Cullman recognized the comedy upon first reading, and, knowing it would translate to the stage, focused instead on bringing out the anguish “throbbing underneath.”
“Throughout the play, there is a very melancholic vein that I wanted to make sure we didn’t ever lose sight of,” says the director. He relished the opportunity to expose Jordan’s vulnerability—something most people work hard to conceal. “I think it’s beautiful to be able to show truly private behavior onstage. To me that feels really intimate... You don’t really see that often.”
Harmon insists that Significant Other—with which both he and Cullman are making their Broadway debuts—is not based on his own life. In its initial stages, it was a series of scenes in which Jordan talks to his therapist. He also says the play is just as much about friendship as it is about romantic relationships. “It’s a play about a person that is desperate for love, but it’s also very much a play about friendship and loneliness,” says Harmon. “How does it feel to see your friends moving on in a different direction, and you’re not there yet?”
For Cullman, the friendships in Significant Other mirrored those in his real life—yet another reason he was so drawn to the play.
“For most of my life, girls and women have been my closest friends and I’d just never seen or read a play that so brilliantly captured the nuances and intricacies of friendship between a gay man and his female friends,” says Cullman. “A lot of people who saw the show said to me afterward that it was uncanny how it felt like their own story was being told onstage.”
And at the end, we may just feel a little less alone and a little better about this whole love thing. Then again, maybe we won’t.