The Franco-Prussian War almost started last week. That was the original title of the Joshua Harmon play that just bowed at the Booth, but the author chickened out. “I love that title,” he unrepentantly admits, “but I understand it was a bit misleading.”
A bit? The play’s a Pandora’s box of romantic angst, sprung on a GBF when wedding bells start breaking up that old, all-girl gang of his. To counter this outbreak of brides, Jordan Berman makes a move on his “office crush,” a handsome history buff, and the bait for the date is a film documentary about the Franco-Prussian War.
Hence, we have the more on-topic handle of Significant Other, which one was in the dark ages before gay marriage. It’s clear that Harmon’s quite familiar with the scene.
“You do hit a point in your 20s and 30s where, if you know enough people, you’re just going to weddings all the time—and working to save money to go to these weddings you don’t really want to go to,” he says, sizing up that scene. “This year has been a little more low-key for me: I’ve only had to go to three weddings so far.”
Significant Other is a melancholy comedy of growing pangs, written well out of his comfort zone but (he insists) not autobiographical. His next play, which Roundabout has dibs on, is called Skintight, and that, coming from him, sounds very encouraging.
“I think Significant Other is a play that celebrates people’s humanity. It offers the audience a chance to have a deeply felt emotional experience, and I think that’s important in a time when people are being treated in a dehumanizing manner.”
Gideon Glick’s lost, lovelorn Jordan is situated at the Booth directly across West 45th from Ben Platt’s dear Evan Hansen at the Music Box, a young male no less tightly wound. In fact, they could have a showdown tic-off at any minute. “I saw Dear Evan Hansen Off-Broadway and enjoyed it very much,” recalls Glick, who can afford such largesse since they won’t be in competing Tony categories. “Both of our characters are young and neurotic—basically, the sort of sweet guys who sometimes mess up.”
To put a pretty fine point on it, this is Glick’s 2.5 Broadway outing. He debuted in Spring Awakening and “was part of the geek chorus in Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. When they parted ways with Julie Taymor, they parted ways with our characters.”
This time, he and his character are in perfect synch. “I love the way Jordan speaks. I love how he puts everything out there. His language is very honest and truthful.”
Trip Cullman, the 42-year-old Obie winner in charge of these 20-somethings, just finished directing a 19-, 20- and 21-year-old in a play (Yen), is pausing long enough to make his Broadway debut with Significant Other, then pressing on to another Broadway opus with a wayward-youth subplot (Six Degrees of Separation).
“Ordinarily, I’d prefer to have a little bit of space in between plays,” he says, “but these three overlapping, back-to-back shows were projects I couldn’t say no to.”
His own emotional train-wreck drew Cullman like a magnet to Significant Other. “It spoke to me because I had a really bad breakup and was relating a lot to Jordan.”
The director agrees that there are puddles of self-pity around, but these go with the territory. “We can be annoying people sometimes when we feel sorry for ourselves, but that doesn’t change the fact it’s a true thing we’re going through. To me, again, that feels very relatable. You’re seeing someone’s journey, warts and all.”
As the dreamboat who is Jordan’s aspired-for Significant Other, John Behlmann certainly looks the part—but doesn’t feel it. “It’s funny that this is my part, that I get to be the cool and aloof one on the date,” he says. “That is not me. Normally, I’m much more of a mile-a-minute motor-mouth. I relate so much more to Jordan.
“In my life, I spent a long, long time being single, watching all my friends get married. I was one of the last ones left. When I did this show the first time around [Off-Broadway, at Roundabout’s Laura Pels], I was single, so that part of the story is the part that really got me and the thing that really interested me about the play.”
Acting with Glick is an easy click for Behlmann. They have a history: “I met Gideon doing a play with Trip at MCC called Wild Animals You Should Know. That was 2011. Then I was his Boy Scoutmaster. Now we go on a date. I’ve grown, he’s the same.”
There are four women in Jordan’s life—three altar-bound besties (Rebecca Noami Jones, Lindsay Mendez, Sas Goldberg) and a homebound granny (Barbara Barrie).
Jones, the lone newcomer in the cast, didn’t need to be brought up to speed. “It’s kind of interesting being in the same age group as the character you’re playing,” she notes. “I get what’s happening here. You spend all your time with your friends, and everybody’s riding the same wave in terms of their life and changes in their life.
“Then, suddenly, people start having major life-changes—relationships, weddings, children. That’s a weird thing about growing up. You’re really happy for someone, but you still wonder, ‘Well, why isn’t that happening for me?’ and ‘What am I doing wrong on this?’ and ‘Will I ever have those things?’ or even ‘Do I want those things?’ ”
Goldberg is the funniest, brassiest and most abrasive of the BFFs. “I’d like to have a Kiki in my life,” she says of the role. “She’s the life of the party, a cheerleader, fun. She’s your biggest fan. She’ll force you to go out if you feel sorry for yourself. She’s the eternal optimist. Sometimes she’s annoying and overbearing, but sometimes you want someone to tell you how great you look or how much fun you are.”
Her role comes with laughs, also. “I do love the laughs. I can’t lie. Josh was very kind to me. When I was in seventh grade I did ‘You Gotta Have a Gimmick’ and I was too plump to do it, but even then I loved the laugh at the expense of what I looked like.”
As you might expect from a Dogfight veteran, Mendez is the most nurturing and vulnerable of Jordan’s girlfriends—and the last to wed. “She’s a complicated human, looking for love and not finding it in any of the right places—and very, very devoted to her friends, who are the loves of her life. I can really relate to that, very much so. I have, like, 20 Jordans in my life. Cullman is, honestly, one of those people, one of my besties—and so is Gideon and so is Josh Harmon. I definitely have a lot of them.”
The most affecting moments in the play come when Jordan takes time-out from the bachelorette battles and visits his grandmother (Barrie, 85 going on 65).
“Barbara’s so intent on finding the truth of every single moment,” says Harmon. “She doesn’t ever want there to be a false moment. I’ve never seen anybody work harder than Barbara Barrie at making something feel genuine and lived-in and authentic.”
The playwright still has both grandmothers. One of them was the inspiration for Barrie’s character. The other one introduced him to theater in the first place—albeit, via Medea. But that, too, turned out well: “I just did an adaptation of it,” he beams.