“Significant Other” begins as a gay “40-Year-Old Virgin” and ends up a gay “Bridesmaids.” That’s not necessarily a negative thing to say about Joshua Harmon’s new comedy, which opened Thursday at Broadway’s Booth Theatre. The show never feels derivative, even though you might get the impression you’ve seen this distraught hero before through a different prism in an alternate universe.
Jordan Berman (the remarkable Gideon Glick) is not 40 when we first meet him at a bachelorette party for one of his three close female friends. But no doubt about it: He’s definitely the eunuch in the harem. Not yet 30, Jordan probably isn’t a virgin, so he lacks the immediate tragic aura of Steve Carell’s character in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” What Jordan does quickly exhibit, however, is obsessive tendencies toward abnormally attractive men, especially the new guy at work named Will (John Behlmann), who is definitely fantasy material.
Jordan’s problem is established early when he obsesses over Will’s physique (he has seen him at an office pool party in swim trunks and wet), but must point out to his girlfriends that Will’s shoulders aren’t exactly broad and he doesn’t have a six-pack, despite the fact that Will’s shoulders are Charlton Heston broad and he has a good four-pack.
Creepiness eventually creeps into Jordan’s many tales about Will. What’s hysterically funny soon develops the tragic aura of repression that defines the Carell character, only different and, of course, gay. Glick, Harmon and director Trip Cullman walk a tightrope here together and they never let Jordan fall off it in the first act.
“Significant Other” begins with the promiscuous, probably alcoholic Kiki (Sas Goldberg) getting married. Soon, the drop-dead gorgeous Vanessa (Rebecca Naomi Jones) is also wed, leaving only the somewhat dumpy Laura (Lindsay Mendez) to keep Jordan company at the annual wedding.
Laura is Jordan’s insurance card: the woman he can count on never to wed, until she does. In an inspired piece of double-casting, the play’s Will (Behlmann) is also cast at Laura’s fiancé-husband. Actually, Behlmann is triple-cast, also essaying Kiki’s bumpkin husband from Kentucky. A major achievement, the actor lands all three characters, as does his castmate Luke Smith, who’s also triple-cast in minor roles.
Kristen Wiig’s long meltdown in “Bridesmaids” is basically act two of “Significant Other,” only here it’s decidedly more gay. The magnificent Barbara Barrie plays Jordan’s grandmother, who gives her grandson some good advice, which he may or may not take to heart.
How much real despair you see in this 29-year-old’s situation may depend on whether you’re closer in age to Jordan or Grandma. It’s here, in my very mature opinion, that Glick & Co. may fall off that tightrope. A more stoic ending would be preferred. Tears are for audiences, not leading men, regardless of their character’s sexual orientation.