When a play opens with a bunch of drunken twenty-somethings dancing to “Get Low” by Lil’ Jon & The East Side Boyz, it’s a pretty good bet the audience is in for a fun evening. What the audience might not suspect, but will come to realize, at least in the case of Theatre Raleigh’s production of Significant Other, directed by Julia Murney, is that there is also a lot of depth, honesty, and even a twinge or two of sadness at the human condition to be found here.
As the dancing subsides and the conversation begins, viewers are introduced to the kinds of perfectly imperfect people we’re all dying to be friends with. These include “school marm” Laura (Emily Bosco); raucous, about-to-be-married Kiki (Meagan Chieppor); dark, dry Vanessa (Shay LaGrange); and Jordan (Jesse Gephart), an instantly-lovable homosexual who, from the get-go, lives for his friends.
As Murney’s fast-paced, effortlessly smooth direction and Chris Bernier’s brilliant set design (more on that later) move the show along seamlessly, Joshua Harmon’s pitch-perfect dialogue flows equally as quickly and effortlessly. This dialogue is fresh, clever, and resoundingly real, perfectly reflecting the conversations of young, “sophisticated” New Yorkers, as well as their struggles and dreams.
The story progresses as the characters' lives do. Suddenly, it seems as if everyone is getting married and moving on to “real lives,” except for Jordan. Stuck in a self-obsessed “chapter” of his life and following one doomed quest for “love” or something like it after another, Jordan soon becomes the center of the play’s universe.
Fortunately, Gephart is more than adept at handling this demanding role and even more demanding character. Harmon’s beautiful writing is something that has to be balanced carefully. If an actor plays any character, especially Jordan, just the tiniest bit “off,” the character would lose his charm and his hold on the audience which are central to this story playing out as it should.
The good news is that Gephart knows exactly what he is doing here, thanks in part to meticulous direction and, one could surmise, a lot of fearless free reign by Murney. Gephart masters every bit of Harmon’s intense, fast dialogue, revealing a Jordan who is painfully insecure and amazingly, endearingly vulnerable. The vulnerability here is so real, in fact, that it’s often painful to watch. Viewers will reflect on their own romantic gaffs and “lost moments” as they watch this beautifully written, so true to life character played out in a painstaking yet fully believable way.
And, while this might all sound quite solemn and drudging, it is anything but. Gephart uses physical comedy where appropriate to keep things light. That, plus the utter honesty of the dialogue keeps the show, despite some of its deeper themes, from ever feeling heavy-handed.
In fact, the depth here is so subtle that it’s easy to miss if one isn’t paying careful attention. Plus, hilarious performances from Chieppor and various supporting cast members also keep the laughs coming. And, while the laughs are certainly nice, the real beauty here lies in the subtle, tender moments and the slow but eventual growth of the main character.
Barbara Kingsley’s excellent rendering of Helene, Jordan’s loving and oft-confused grandmother, add much to the heart of the story, as does Bosco’s soft and brutally honest portrayal of Laura. It also helps that viewers are never, not even for a moment, taken out of the story or the lives of these people. Murney’s direction is so incredibly smooth, moving from one scene, from one time and place, to another in such a natural way that one almost doesn’t notice the transitions.
Of course, much of this is made possible by Bernier’s incredible set. He has created a two-story masterpiece that serves as a bar, the grandmother’s home, an office break room, an art museum, and many things in between….all done in such a way that the viewer never bats an eye. Helped along by Jenni Mann Becker’s on-point lighting design ,this show is, in a word, perfect, right down to the multi-layered title and the bittersweet end.
We love the arts. We write about them. Founded 2018.