Encore Michigan

Ringwald’s ‘Significant Other’ is angsty but beautiful

Review January 07, 2019 David Kiley

FERNDALE, Mich.–Taking in Joshua Harmon’s play Significant Other at The Ringwald Theatre here, I was hoping for a plot twist that would allow me to write a “Three Weddings and a Funeral” headline. But the story did not cooperate. Instead, what the audience beautifully experienced was a stellar performance by Matthew Wallace in making us literally hear the sound of a man hugging his own pillow.

Four Millennials –Jordan (Wallace), Laura (Jaye Stellini), Vanessa (Annie Dilworth) and Kiki (Meredith Deighton) are the closest of friends. The women are straight, and Jordan is gay. Are they whiny? Overly self-aware? A bit narcissistic? Yes. But they are also people simply trying to figure it out. The “it” in this case is life, love and emotional survival.

One by one, the three women get married. We have seen this plot before. A cadre of friends starts getting married, and one who does not walk the aisle feels left out, abandoned. In truth, and in life, that is what happens to a single person when their closest friends all get hitched and start having babies.

Jordan is in his late 20s, a nice Jewish boy who is a bit old school. He even has a speech when he resists an offer to go have sex after reuniting with an old flame. It was too soon for him. Too easy. Likewise he rebuffs the offer from an irritating but willing co-worker. He is achingly lonely and mourning his separation from his friends. He wants love, but he has standards. What he has had with his three friends is real. It’s been his emotional mooring. And he even had a fallback plan of a non-traditional family with Laura–that is until she landed a dude and got married.

Wallace has the advantage of very good dialogue written by Harmon. But in his hands and heart Wallace gives Jordan what is at times heart-aching reality to the words. He finds just the right moments to interject convincing heartache, emotional panic and an all-too familiar mash-up of love and anger that many actors can’t pull off and make it feel real. Wallace nails this.

Stellini and Dilworth both play their own versions of being above falling in love with a man nicely while keeping their identities distinct from one another. Stellini’s Laura, a bit more sexual, loves Jordan, but she also lets us subtly know in her body language and with Harmon’s dialogue, even before her marriage, that Jordan is never going to be able to fulfill her. Dilworth’s Vanessa is the angrier, more aloof and skeptical of the gang. Harmon’s delineation of characters is very good. Meredith Deighton’s Kiki plays a stereotype Millennial with a hyper-affected creaky voice, which provides frequent comic relief as she totters around on heels even when pregnant. She is beyond a one-dimensional human irritant in the story, and ironically is the first one to be engaged; except her fiancée appears to be as much of a mental nothing-burger as she is, so it’s okay. I was trying to figure out why Harmon did not make Kiki more interesting, but kudos to Deighton for knowing that the character is a kind of a human Festivus pole around which the others gather and express their life angst.

One of the bits of the script I like is Harmon’s deft writing of the subtleties of social media and email writing and texting. Communications between friends and lovers over smartphones has become a language all its own, right down to interpreting significance of which emojis and bitmojis are sent. Harmon and the actors nail this reality and make it feel as natural as it is in our lives.

Director Brandy Joe Plambeck did a superb job of casting the play, and choosing it in the first place. His eye for good material stood him well here.

Jean Garringer does a lovely job or playing older than she is as Helene Berman, Jordan’s grandmother sliding into dementia. Harmon, though, gives her a crucial piece of advice to dole out to Jordan that can sustain us all. Allen Wiseman and Andrew Barikmo each play three roles a piece and do it like pros, switching roles and demeanors so we keep them straight.

Loneliness and want of a solid love connection is a common thread through humanity. It seems to come easy for some. But for each of those people, there are more than one who are still searching. Significant Other, besides being extremely well written and acted, reminds us to be patient and loving with the searchers.

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