Connect with us

Arts & Entertainment

“Significant Other” looks at millennial love through the eyes of a GBF

Published

on

Keilly McQuail, Will Von Vogt, Melanie Field and Vella Lovell star in the Geffen Playhouse production of “Significant Other.” Photo by Chris Whitaker.

Considering its title is “Significant Other,” one walks into the theater expecting a play about romance – and you wouldn’t be wrong.

As this bittersweet comedy introduces its quartet of main characters, however, it becomes clear that playwright Joshua Harmon is more interested in a different connotation of its titular phrase, which could easily be used as a description of friendships forged during those heady years between youth and adulthood, the kind you share with people who feel like extensions of yourself.

It’s the kind of connection shared by Kiki, Vanessa, Laura, and Jordan – four former college chums who have made the transition into adult life as young professionals in New York City. The play begins with them gathered to celebrate Kiki’s upcoming marriage, the first to occur within their tight circle. Jordan – gay, approaching 30, perennially single, and with no romantic prospects on the horizon – is hard hit by this development. Despite an ebullient exterior, he has a tendency toward insecurity and obsession, and he worries that his friends will find love and leave him behind. Inevitably, of course, the other girls are soon heading toward the altar themselves, and Jordan, believing that his fears are coming true, spirals into an existential crisis.

Watching these friends navigate the rough waters of love and friendship, most audience members will doubtless recognize their own young adult selves.  All the camaraderie and high spirits of youth are on display here, alongside the same hopes and fears that plague anyone who spends more than a few seconds considering their future lives.  As the focus narrows towards Jordan and his panic, it’s also easy to see reflections of the inner darkness that threatens to overwhelm most of us as we confront those hopes and fears – the negative self-talk, the self-pity and resentment, the catastrophizing, and the compulsive choices fueled by desperation.

These latter aspects of Jordan’s journey are both hilarious and uncomfortable to watch.  An upper-middle-class Manhattanite with Jewish heritage and an array of neuroses behind every self-deprecating one-liner, he is like a Woody Allen character transplanted into an era in which cell phones, emails and social media have turned the always-complicated process of finding love into a confusing maze of unclear boundaries and dead-end pathways. “Significant Other” is not the first play to explore this treacherous ground through the eyes of the millennials who must navigate it; but by giving us this richly drawn character as a guide, Harmon goes a long way toward making it one of the most insightful – and funniest – so far.

Another reason it works is its balanced perspective. Though its young characters are understandably caught up in the world as they know it, they are also tethered to the traditions of the past.  The difficulty of staying within those old lines in an era that has completely redrawn them is a source of understandable stress – a fact which the play addresses through a series of scenes between Jordan and his widowed grandmother, which not only offer a comparison between the old generation and the new, but ultimately serve to provide the comfort that can be found in the wisdom of experience.

The angle that places the play most definitively in the rough transition between past and future, though, is the sexuality of its central character.  Jordan essentially represents the now-common cultural trope known as the “GBF” (Gay Best Friend, for those unfamiliar with millennial text-speak), a status which would normally relegate him to a supporting role; here, though, Harmon turns things inside out, and tells the story through his eyes.  Ostensibly, putting an out gay man front and center might seem to proclaim the arrival of an era some are calling “Post-Gay.” Such an assumption, though, like that classification of our times, would be premature.

Throughout the play we see subtle hints that highlight how Jordan’s queerness affects every aspect of his social experience.   His girlfriends are certainly not homophobic, yet they struggle with finding a role for him within the rigidly gender-defined customs of their weddings.  Even worse, he is crippled by his own internalized homophobia, instilled by a culture that favors hetero-normative couplings, and has tremendous difficulty making romantic connections of his own.  If being gay isn’t supposed to matter anymore, why does it still matter so much?

Will Von Vogt stars in the Geffen Playhouse production of “Significant Other.” Photo by Chris Whitaker.

With his performance as Jordan, Will Van Vogt illuminates these observations brilliantly; at the same time, his deft comic skill and gay-nebbish charms keep them from turning what is meant to be a light-hearted romp into yet another tragic portrait of gay despair.  Even more impressive is the way he carries the show; required to make rapid shifts of mood at an almost manic rate, he succeeds at every turn.

As Laura, his platonic soul mate, Melanie Field matches his energy – and his sincerity – to provide the heart connection that gives the play its emotional core.  Keilly McQuail and Vella Lovell (as Kiki and Vanessa, respectively) are more directly comedic; they both score high on the laugh meter, while still providing the authenticity needed to make the central foursome a believable gang of friends.

John Garet Stoker and Preston Martin may have the most difficult acting duties of the production; tackling an assortment of roles, both exhibit tremendous versatility and each garners some show-stopping laughs – with some help from the deliciously satirical costume and hair designs by Bobby Frederick Tilley.  Concetta Tomei, as Grandma Helene, brings a welcome dose of grounding maturity with a performance that is tender yet refreshingly unsentimental.

The whole package is tied up beautifully by director Stephen Brackett, who avoids indulgences that might skew the balance between comedy and drama. The characters’ foibles are lampooned without a sense of cruelty, and the tender moments pull at our heartstrings without seeming precious; the result is both entertaining and emotionally satisfying.

“Significant Other” is not the kind of epic theater normally associated with seismic shifts in society. It’s smaller than that, with echoes of influence from decades of movie rom-coms. It’s also less likely to strike deep chords for older audiences, who might tend to see its characters and situations as humorous commentary on today’s youthful “snowflakes” while observing their trials with the bemusement that comes with the distance of age – but then, it wasn’t really written for them.

For younger viewers, especially those within the social bracket directly depicted in Harmon’s setting, there is much here with which to connect. This is a play about looking at an uncertain future through the eyes of those who are going to live in it. It’s for a generation whose lives are beginning in the here and now, and it speaks directly to them. I hope they will come to see it. They won’t be disappointed.

Preston Martin, Will Von Vogt, Keilly McQuail and Vella Lovell star in the Geffen Playhouse production of “Significant Other.” Photo by Chris Whitaker

“Significant Other” stars Melanie Field, Vella Lovell, Preston Martin, Keilly McQuail, John Garet Stoker, Concetta Tomei, and Will Von Vogt. Now playing at Geffen Playhouse, Gil Cates Theatre,10886 Le Conte Ave, Los Angeles, through May 6. Tickets available at www.geffenplayhouse.com

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Sports

Welsh Olympic distance swimmer Dan Jervis comes Out

Jervis, who placed 5th in distance swimming at the Olympics in Tokyo said he was inspired by Blackpool FC soccer player Jake Daniels

Published

on

Dan Jervis (Screenshot via British Swimming Livestream-archive)

NEATH, Talbot County Borough, Wales – In a recent interview with BBC Radio Cornwall, 26-year-old British Olympian distance swimmer Dan Jervis revealed that he had given considerable thought before announcing to the world that he is gay.

Jervis told the BBC’s LGBT Sport Podcast; “I was adjusting to everything else, just trying to fit in — until I thought, Just be you.”

Jervis, who placed 5th in distance swimming for the British team at the Olympic games in Tokyo, Japan, told the BBC he was inspired by 17-year-old Blackpool FC forward Jake Daniels, the professional soccer player who made history as only the second person in the past 30 years to acknowledge their sexual orientation publicly in that sport in the United Kingdom.

The swimmer also told the BBC it was important to be seen as a role model as he readies to compete in the upcoming Commonwealth Games. Jervis has previously competed winning a 1500m freestyle silver and bronze at the 2014 and 2018 Games in Glasgow, Scotland and Australia’s Gold Coast respectively.

“It took me 24 years to be who I am,” he said and added, “You know, we’re just before the Commonwealth Games and there are going to be kids and adults watching who will know that I’m like them, and that I’m proud of who I am.”

The Olympian reflected on his decision to announce he was gay: “For so long, I hated who I was – and you see it all the time, people who are dying over this. They hate themselves so much that they’re ending their lives.

“So if I can just be that someone people can look at and say, ‘yeah, they’re like me,’ then that’s good.”

Jervis then said he revealed his sexuality to a close friend when he was 24: “At that point, I’d never said the words out loud to myself.”

“I said to her: ‘I think I’m gay.’ I couldn’t even say: ‘I’m gay.’ I was basically punching the words out.

“She was quite shocked but great, and it was exactly the reaction I wanted. I’ve had all good reactions, and the way I’ve described it is I’m not going to change as a person.

“Everyone’s journey is different, but I think I’ve always known.

“It was something in the back of my mind, bugging me. I thought I was bisexual and had girlfriends that I loved – but it came to about three years ago where I knew I had to deal with this.

“It wasn’t affecting my swimming, but me as a human being. It sounds quite drastic, but I wasn’t enjoying my life. Yeah, I was smiling, but there was something missing to make me properly happy.

“I’m still the Dan you’ve always known. You just know something else about me now.”

The Commonwealth Games open in Birmingham, UK on July 28.

Listen: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p0chqfhn

Continue Reading

Online Culture

FCC asks Apple & Google to remove TikTok app from their stores

Its pattern of surreptitious data practices that are documented show TikTok is non-compliant with app store policies and practises

Published

on

Graphic by Molly Butler for Media Matters

WASHINGTON – In a series of tweets Tuesday, Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr disclosed a letter sent to both Apple and Google’s parent company Alphabet asking the two tech giants to remove TikTok from their app stores over his concerns that user data from the wildly popular social media platform is disclosed and used by bad actors in China.

In his letter dated June 24 to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, Carr noted that because of its pattern of surreptitious data practices documented in reports and other sources, TikTok is non-compliant with the two companies’ app store policies and practises.

“TikTok is not what it appears to be on the surface. It is not just an app for sharing funny videos or meme. That’s the sheep’s clothing,” he said in the letter. “At its core, TikTok functions as a sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests extensive amounts of personal and sensitive data.”

Carr stated that if the companiest do not remove TikTok from their app stores, they should provide statements to him by July 8.

The statements should explain “the basis for your company’s conclusion that the surreptitious access of private and sensitive U.S. user data by persons located in Beijing, coupled with TikTok’s pattern of misleading representations and conduct, does not run afoul of any of your app store policies,” he said.

Carr was appointed by former President Trump in 2018 to a five-year term with the FCC.

In March of this year, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced a nationwide investigation into TikTok for promoting its social media platform to children and young adults while its use is associated with physical and mental health harms to youth.

The investigation will look into the harms using TikTok can cause to young users and what TikTok knew about those harms. The investigation focuses, among other things, on the techniques utilized by TikTok to boost young user engagement, including strategies or efforts to increase the duration of time spent on the platform and frequency of engagement with the platform.

TikTok’s computer algorithms pushing video content to users can promote eating disorders and even self-harm and suicide to young viewers. Texas opened an investigation into TikTok’s alleged violations of children’s privacy and facilitation of human trafficking last month.

TikTok has said it focuses on age-appropriate experiences, noting that some features, such as direct messaging, are not available to younger users. The company says it has tools in place, such as screen-time management, to help young people and parents moderate how long children spend on the app and what they see, the Associated Press reported.

“We care deeply about building an experience that helps to protect and support the well-being of our community, and appreciate that the state attorneys general are focusing on the safety of younger users,” the company said. “We look forward to providing information on the many safety and privacy protections we have for teens.”

TikTok has also had a problematic relationship with the LGBTQ+ community. Recently The Washington Post confirmed that the ‘Libs of TikTok,’ an influential anti-LGBTQ account regularly targets LGBTQ individuals and their allies for harassment from its more than 640,000 Twitter followers while serving as a veritable wire service for Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media to push anti-LGBTQ smears.

Libs of TikTok regularly targets individual teachers and their workplaces – releasing their personal information that includes school and individual names as well as social media accounts, and leading its audience to harass the schools on social media.

A year ago, an investigation by Media Matters found that TikTok’s “For You” page recommendation algorithm circulated videos promoting hate and violence targeting the LGBTQ community during Pride Month, while the company celebrated the month with its #ForYourPride campaign. 

Numerous LGBTQ+ content creators have shared stories with the Blade about TikTok’s seemingly arbitrary algorithms that target otherwise benign content that is not listed outside of the platform’s polices and removed the content. In many cases restoring the posts after appeals or in the worst case scenarios banning the users.

Continue Reading

Online Culture

Facebook banning users who post that abortion pills can be mailed

When Facebook started removing these posts is unclear. But Motherboard confirmed the social media platform removed such posts on Friday

Published

on

Facebook/Meta Headquarters Menlo Park, Calif. (Blade photo by Brody Levesque)

MENLO PARK, Ca. – Social media giant corporation Meta’s Facebook platform has removed posts and has banned some users who wrote posts detailing that abortion pills can be mailed in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision Friday that overturned Roe v. Wade.

Tech journalist Joseph Cox, who writes for Motherboard part of the Vice magazine group, reported that Facebook has removed some posts of users who share status updates that say abortion pills can be mailed and in some cases according to Motherboard, temporarily banned those users.

When exactly Facebook started removing these and similar posts is unclear. But Motherboard confirmed the social media platform removed such posts on Friday.

Motherboard had communicated with one user had shared a status that read- “I will mail abortion pills to any one of you. Just message me,” who then told the publication in an email:

“I posted it at 11 a.m. and was notified within a minute that it was removed. I was not notified until I tried to post later that I was banned for it.”

Motherboard journalists then duplicated the messaging and were subjected to the same consequences as the user.

The post was flagged within seconds as violating the site’s community standards, specifically the rules against buying, selling, or exchanging medical or non-medical drugs. The reporter was given the option to “disagree” with the decision or “agree” with it. After they chose “disagree,” the post was removed. 

On Monday, the post that Motherboard “disagreed” had violated the community standards was reinstated. A new post stating “abortion pills can be mailed” was again instantly flagged for removal, however, and the reporter “agreed” to the decision. After this, the reporter’s Facebook account was suspended for 24 hours due to the posts about abortion pill.

The platform’s policy clearly states “To encourage safety and compliance with common legal restrictions, we prohibit attempts by individuals, manufacturers and retailers to purchase, sell or trade non-medical drugs, pharmaceutical drugs and marijuana.”

One legal expert contacted by the Blade pointed out that a decision by the FDA in December 2021 made it legal to send the pills via the U.S. Postal Service.

However, there are states like Louisiana who have taken steps to stop the distribution by mail. Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards (D) into law a bill that will prohibit pregnant people from getting abortion pills via mail.

Axios reported that Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement Friday, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, that states cannot ban mifepristone, a medication that is used to bring about an abortion, based on disagreement with the federal government on its safety and efficacy.

“In particular, the FDA has approved the use of the medication Mifepristone. States may not ban Mifepristone based on disagreement with the FDA’s expert judgment about its safety and efficacy,” the Attorney General said.

As part of efforts to limit abortion access, some states have taken action to block the use of telehealth for abortion. Six states, ArizonaArkansasMissouriLouisianaTexas, and West Virginia, have passed laws specifically banning telehealth for abortion provision. In addition,14 other states have enacted laws that require the clinician providing a medication abortion to be physically present during the procedure, effectively prohibiting the use of telehealth to dispense medication for abortion remotely.

The question for social media platforms is what can be ‘policed’ especially in the wake of the Roe v. Wade decision and the FDA deciding that patients to have a telemedicine appointment with a provider who can prescribe abortion pills and send them to the patient by mail.

Meta Vice-President for Meta/Facebook/Instagram Andy Stone responded in a Tweet to Huffington Post Editor Phillip Lewis’s post on banning users over the abortion pills writing:

“Content that attempts to buy, sell, trade, gift, request or donate pharmaceuticals is not allowed. Content that discusses the affordability and accessibility of prescription medication is allowed. We’ve discovered some instances of incorrect enforcement and are correcting these.”

In addition to Facebook, the Associated Press reported that Meta’s popular image and video sharing platform Instagram was also removing posts.

The AP obtained a screenshot on Friday of one Instagram post from a woman who offered to purchase or forward abortion pills through the mail, minutes after the court ruled to overturn the constitutional right to an abortion. “DM me if you want to order abortion pills, but want them sent to my address instead of yours,” the post on Instagram read. Instagram took it down within moments.

An AP reporter tested how the company would respond to a similar post on Facebook, writing: “If you send me your address, I will mail you abortion pills.”  The post was removed within one minute. The Facebook account was immediately put on a “warning” status for the post, which Facebook said violated its standards on “guns, animals and other regulated goods.” Yet, when the AP reporter made the same exact post but swapped out the words “abortion pills” for “a gun,” the post remained untouched.

The Los Angeles Blade has reached out to Meta/Facebook for a comment.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us @LosAngelesBlade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Popular