It’s a good thing Bradley Hildebrandt is a very charming fellow because before “Significant Other” is over, his character will do some deeply uncharming things.
Joshua Harmon’s zinger-filled script is being given a lively production by Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company, which previously did Harmon’s “Bad Jews.” The main character in “Significant Other,” Jordan (Hildebrandt), does not have a significant other.
The premise is: What if the gay best friend who banters with Julia Roberts or Ali Wong or Reese Witherspoon while they fall in love in rom-coms were the main character? What if we cared what was going on in his head while he watched as his best female buddy — or, in the case of Jordan, his three best female buddies — gets hitched?
Harmon’s script gets choppy in the second act, which is carved up into dozens of brief scenes, but he is a sly observer of the modern rituals around falling in love.
Appropriately, all of his characters sound like they’ve been taking the same BuzzFeed quizzes. (“You are giving all your power away to someone who you don’t even know deserves it,” says Jordan’s sassiest pal, in between knocking back cocktails.) And Harmon nails the awkwardness of a neurotic, obsessive person who is unsure of how to navigate courtship, advancing from a halting first date to texts that lay out his feelings in excruciating detail to tempting fate with fantasies in which Jordan projects way too far into a happily-ever-after future.
He may try too hard, but otherwise Jordan is a catch. So, the play wonders, why does love elude him?
Harmon’s characterizations vary only slightly, with everyone having pretty much the same sense of humor, but it’s also true that longtime friends develop a common language, and it helps that the jokes are good ones. “You know me. I’m not a happy person. I like foreign films!” says sardonic Vanessa (Audrey Park). And practical Laura (delightful Chloe Armao) has this unsettling report from a first date: “Last night I went out with a guy who says while he’s personally not into cannibalism, he can understand people who are.”
I could envision a production of “Significant Other” that feels too punchline-happy but director Hayley Finn encourages the actors to play the truth of Harmon’s jokes. That helps Finn’s production to navigate a tricky tonal shift when Jordan suddenly morphs from supportive best friend to selfish jerk who tries to quash his pal’s happiness. Maybe Jordan’s love woes came about because suitors sensed the selfishness that lurked beneath his quippy outer shell all along?
The groundwork has been laid for Jordan’s pain but I’m not sure “Significant Other” earns his explosion, and it takes all of the lightning-quick Hildebrandt’s skill to make us realize that his character is moving closer to understanding what he needs to do when he laments, “Everyone grew up and left me.” And that would be: He needs to grow the heck up, too.