There comes a time for most people, usually in our twenties, when the circle of friends we in which we move begins to peel away; one by one, they reach a point when the bustle of a busy social life is suddenly less appealing than the traditional comfort of domesticity, and they pair off with some special someone with whom they think they are ready to settle down.
When this happens, inevitably, the group dwindles until there is only one person left.
Being that person, to put it succinctly, pretty much sucks.
It’s this phenomenon that is explored in “Significant Other,” a comedy by playwright Joshua Harmon which officially opens its West Coast premiere at the Geffen Playhouse on April 11.
The show, which has already enjoyed successful Off-Broadway and Broadway runs, follows a young man named Jordan, a single professional who also happens to be gay. When his close group of female friends each begins to slowly drift away and get married, he finds himself feeling left alone while he searches for his own “Mr. Right.”
Will Van Vogt, who plays Jordan, says it’s a play that hits him pretty close to home.
“I’ve been living with the same woman, my best friend, for eight years, and just before I came to L.A. she moved in with her life partner – so we sort of broke up this domestic partnership that we had developed. I’m so excited and proud for her, but it’s sort of like, ‘well, now what’s going to happen to me?’”
He says that same kind of uncertainty is at the core of his character, and of the play itself.
“Jordan is trying to figure out what adult life looks like for him. He begins to look around and realize that he doesn’t have everything in place the way that he’d like to, and it sends him into a bit of a spiral – worrying about things he wants, things he’s afraid he’ll never get. It’s a very human story about things I think we’re all afraid of at the end of the day.”
He’s also thrilled to be part of a show that, as he puts it, is so “queer-centric.”
“One of the things I love most about this play, as a gay man, is that we have this person, front and center, who’s going through major life events that are applicable for everybody who shows up to that room. It’s wonderful to have a queer character deliver those messages – so often we’re reduced to playing side characters, or characters facing great tragedy, but Jordan is this layered character who goes through these relatable human emotions across all levels. Whether you’re a gay man in your twenties or an elderly woman in your nineties, or anybody in between, you’re going to recognize the struggles that he’s going through.”
Even so, at a time in entertainment culture when the watchword is “inclusiveness,” he says that the character’s sexuality is relevant because it is, essentially, not relevant at all.
“This play isn’t about Jordan being gay, it’s about him being a human being. The problems he’s trying to tackle are heightened because they’re reflected against heteronormative traditions, but underneath they are really just human experiences.”
Melanie Field, who plays Laura, says the play is not just about Jordan’s issues. The other characters are all trying to find their way, too.
“Laura is closest to Jordan, they have a special bond. They are pretty aligned when it comes to their views about life, and about marriage. They don’t really subscribe to the whole idea of marriage and romance – but when their other friends start meeting people and settling down, she catches the bug too. And then it becomes about how this challenges their friendship. They have to figure out how they are going to remain best friends, and what that really means, as their relationship status changes.”
Just like Van Vogt, she says she sees a lot of herself reflected in her role.
“I’m starting to ask myself the same kinds of questions about my own life as these characters. It hurts to grow up – it’s difficult, it’s confusing, it’s infuriating at times. We’re looking for all the answers, we’re wanting to know what’s going to happen and how we’re going to get through it.”
She thinks this is what will give the show heightened resonance for millennial audiences – especially the young, urban professional types represented by its main characters.
“A lot of millennials, because of access to education or focus on career, are late-bloomers compared to older generations. The play addresses the idea of looking at how things were for them and comparing your own life to that, even while you’re trying to deal with how the world has changed and the culture has shifted. What does your ideal relationship look like while you’re trying to maintain your independence? Do you even want children? And if you do, how do you meet the person you want to have them with? So much of dating now takes place on a phone screen or a laptop. It’s more complicated now, and I think our show reflects that beautifully.”
“There are several scenes in where Jordan talks to his grandmother about where she was at as his age. We have that presence in our show, of this older generation that did things so much differently in terms of dating, and marriage, and children and all of it. It’s a really nice foil for what Jordan is going through.”
Playwright Harmon has been lauded for his skill at creating “richly funny comedies with appealing, exasperating and infinitely recognizable characters.” Even so, with all this deep talk about relationship challenges, intergenerational comparisons, and cultural shifts, it might be easy to forget that “Significant Other” is a comedy.
Not to worry, says Van Vogt.
“There are so many laugh-out-loud moments. It’s a totally funny play.”
Written by Joshua Harmon
Directed by Stephen Brackett
Starring Melanie Field, Vella Lovell, Preston Martin, Keilly McQuail, John Garet Stoker, Concetta Tomei, and Will Von Vogt.
Geffen Playhouse, Gil Cates Theatre – 10886 Le Conte Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90024
Previews begin March 3, performances March 11 – May 6
Tickets available at www.geffenplayhouse.com