Reviewed by Mary Paige Rieffel
As an alumnus of the Department of Theatre and Dance, it is always a pleasure to return to the University of Michigan- Flint to watch productions. Friday’s production of Significant Other, directed by Bill Irwin, was written by Joshua Hartman and first performed Off-Broadway in 2015, eventually making its way to Broadway in 2017. The plot revolves around Jordan, a gay man in his late twenties who must endure watching his three closest friends find relationships and then attending their weddings. All this leaves Jordan feeling alone and unsure of how to proceed with his own pursuit of love.
The action of the play takes place in the round on the mainstage (a clever and effective trend in the theatre scene recently). Upon first observing the set I assumed that it was a projection casting the face of the lead actor (Gage Webster) on the floor. It was not until I was leaving at the end of the evening that I finally saw that the image was created by hundreds of snapshots from every day life, depicting mostly family and friendship. The rest of the set (designed by Lisa Borton) simply consisted of a bench and string lights. Aided by smart lighting and costume changes (lighting design by Doug Mueller and costume design by Shelby Newport), this proved to be all the play required to set its scenes.
I very much enjoyed watching actual young adults playing young adults and utilizing the modern text naturally. Sandy Doll, Alyssa Banister, and Koyasha Kent played the three best friends to Jordan who all wind up finding their other significant others. Doll plays Laura, Jordan’s BEST friend, with a sweet and steady tone. Kent plays Vanessa, the friend who tells it like it is and Banister plays Kiki, the grown-up party girl we all know whose future children we legitimately fear for. As a young adult who had to play an elderly woman several times in my college career, I must truly commend Lindsey Briggs on playing Helen, Jordan’s grandmother. Briggs’ physicalization and obvious care for the development of character was clear and highly enjoyable. Luis Perez, Enrique Vargas, Gil Hall, David A. Guster, Paul Gregor, and Brian Costanza play a wide range of very entertaining supporting characters that swoop in and out of scenes with a great sense of energy and fun, each one showing a fully developed character. This production relies on its leading man. Jordan is in every scene, has some very intense monologues, and must tell the story even while simply listening and observing, all while being likeable and someone we want to root for. Gage Webster was all that and more in this role. He gave an exceptional performance and is an absolute asset to the department. Bravo!
Joshua Harmon has this to say about his work,
“I wanted to take the gay sidekick character, who maybe gets to say three witty quips and shift the camera, so to speak, so that he wasn’t standing on the edge of the frame but was front and center, to see what happened when you took a character people assume they know and told the story from his point of view…”
What I found so commendable about this story is that it was the gay best friends’ story, but it could be any of us, regardless of gender, orientation, age…anything. The character is gay, but that is not what defines him. What defines this character is how he feels and his frustration with finding a significant other when the loved ones in his life are the most significant others in his heart. There was a recurring scene that involved Laura and Jordan dancing together at their friends’ weddings. It was a true testament to the power of theatre that something so simple could bring me to tears by reminding me so heavily of moments in my own life. But the real magic in those moments was looking across the audience and seeing pairs of friends, and every single one of them having a palpable emotional response to the same scenes. How amazing that a story can bring us all together in the same place to feel feelings in real time.
Significant Other closes this weekend and is a must-see for anyone who has ever been single. The University of Michigan- Flint Department of Theatre and Dance is located at 303 E. Kearsley St. Flint, Michigan. Tickets can be purchased by calling the box office at 810-237-7333 or at the theatre one hour prior to the performance.