A word of warning to those audience members going to see Joshua Harmon's Significant Other: Bring tissues. That goes for new viewers as well as those who first experienced the show off-Broadway in 2015 and are now revisiting it at the Booth Theatre. You'll need them for a dual purpose: While Significant Other is a heartbreaking portrait of life at the end of your 20s, it's a funny one, too.
Structurally, Significant Other hasn't undergone any major changes since its premiere at Roundabout Theatre Company's Laura Pels Theatre. The cast, led with a wallop of brilliance by Gideon Glick and Lindsay Mendez, isn't going off the deep end of broadness in their new home, either. No, this almost wholesale transfer is as skillfully well done as it was before, with director Trip Cullman once again providing a keen, realistic eye to guide the proceedings.
It's easy to diminish this play as a simple tearjerker, forgetting about all of the belly laughs that Harmon provides. Like most things that leave you feeling like you just got punched in the stomach — for example, going through a bad breakup, or, say, watching your life play out onstage — you tend to forget the jolly moments because the pain clouds your memory. But Significant Other was and remains well-rounded in its emotional scope, a ferociously hilarious, unbearably sad, and astonishingly relatable portrait of the special, formative friendships we have in our youth that we hope will never change, but inevitably do.
The quest for companionship has taken its toll on Jordan Berman (Glick), a young gay man on the cusp of turning 30. As the play begins, Jordan and his best girlfriends, Laura (Mendez) and Vanessa (Rebecca Naomi Jones), are celebrating the impending nuptials of Kiki (Sas Goldberg), the fourth in their quartet. The impulsive Kiki may be the first one in their little group to get married, but she's certainly not the last. Vanessa meets her new beau Roger (Luke Smith) at Kiki's wedding, narrowing the foursome down to just Jordan and Laura (they're BFFs anyway, so it doesn't really matter). When Laura starts dating Tony (John Behlmann), the emotionally fragile Jordan gets lost in a sea of not-dates and would-be-relationships that don't pan out, with the existential horror of being alone forever looming over his head.
Who hasn't had that feeling weighing down upon them? The ongoing quest to find your "person" is universally relatable, whether you're gay or straight, young or elderly (Barbara Barrie, a national treasure of an actress, completes the cast as Jordan's no-longer-spry 80something grandma, Helene). Weaving humor and pathos so delicately that we don't even realize when our laughter has shifted to tears, Harmon also maturely observes the way friendships shift when romantic partners get involved. "Thank you for taking care of her all these years. She's in good hands," Tony says to Jordan in one of the play's most difficult moments, a blunt signal that Jordan's place in Laura's life is suddenly and fundamentally different. On a trendy, multilevel set by Mark Wendland, with clublike neon lighting by Japhy Weideman, Cullman underscores moments like these with breathtaking tableaus that can only be achieved in theater (pay special attention to the sly way he leaves Jordan at the end of each wedding sequence).
In their supporting roles, Behlmann and Smith shape-shift into three different characters with comedic finesse. Barrie gives the piece even more of an emotional quality with her sweet and sad portrayal of a woman in the winter of her life. Goldberg is deliciously abrasive as Kiki, the Jewish princess of the group, while Jones, a new addition to the cast for the Broadway run, radiates warmth and meticulously fits into this well-oiled machine of a company.
But Significant Other really belongs to Glick and Mendez, a dynamite duo whose onstage relationship feels so authentic that we almost forget they're acting. Jordan is a difficult character, one who could just be obnoxious and self-sabotaging, but Glick injects him with a lovable warmth and nervous energy. His deliverance of the virtuosic monologues Harmon has written for Jordan is nothing short of inspiring. Mendez is just as transcendent, particularly in the subtle ways her Laura develops from a woman with little self-esteem to someone who is confident in her own skin (the character-defining costumes by Kaye Voyce aid this transition particularly well, providing Mendez to start with baggy college dorm-style outfits that later give way to a more adult-looking ensemble). A climactic scene between Laura and Jordan is so shattering it leaves everyone in the auditorium stricken.
There's a beautiful realness to Significant Other. It's the rare Broadway production that so expertly captures the painful uncertainty of what life at the end of an era, and the lengths to which people will go in order to not be lonely.