In ‘Significant Other,’ A Man Wonders About His Future When His Friends Marry

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Daniel Irwin holds roses
Daniel Irwin stars in “Significant Other.” (Photo by John Flak)

For artistic director Peter Reynolds, Significant Other is a perfect expression of what Mauckingbird Theatre Co. tries to do — namely, produce affordable theater with queer themes.

Significant Other is centered around a young, gay Jewish man named Jordan Berman, whose three closest friends each get married in quick succession, leaving him to wonder what the future holds for him in friendship and in love. The critically acclaimed Broadway show has its Philadelphia premiere at the Louis Bluver Theatre at The Drake on Aug. 28.

After Reynolds first saw Significant Other with his husband, he was struck by the “beautiful specificity” of the show, but that wasn’t all. Yes, it is about a gay man, and yes, that man is Jewish, but what makes the show special, he believes, is that the protagonist’s situation is universally accessible.

“It really explores some things in quite an honest way, and a challenging way,” Reynolds said.

Mauckingbird Theatre Co., founded by writer and performer Lindsay Mauck in 2008, typically takes classic plays and texts and recasts them in a queer light. Shakespeare, Molière, even Gilbert and Sullivan have gotten the Mauckingbird treatment. Staging newer works is not as common for the company, but when he saw Significant Other, Reynolds said, he knew he had to put it on.

The playwright, Joshua Harmon, who is also gay and Jewish, first staged the show off-Broadway in 2015. He had previously written a much-loved (and much-produced) play called Bad Jews, about a coterie of cousins squabbling over a religious heirloom belonging to their recently deceased Holocaust survivor grandfather.

Though Reynolds cautions that he can’t know for sure about everything Harmon has written, Harmon’s writing feels so specific, so singular, he said, that it comes across as autobiographical.

Reynolds noted that Daniel Irwin, playing the role of Jordan in the show, has often exclaimed in rehearsals: “I’ve had this conversation with my grandmother!” Indeed, like any good show about a Jewish man, his mother and grandmother come into play.

For Irwin, gay and Jewish himself, it is refreshing to play a character for whom neither of those facets of his identity are the primary source of strife in the play or in the character’s life. There are plenty of works of art about the calamities that can befall someone who is gay or Jewish or both because of their identity, Irwin said. Here, there were other things to discover in Jordan.

“For better and for worse, there a lot of similarities between me and the character,” Irwin said. “You read it, and you’re like, ‘Yeah, he’s Jewish.’”

Besides the aforementioned factors, he also found that Jordan’s language patterns — colloquial, almost stream-of-consciousness and perhaps too quick for his own good — mirrored his own.

But most importantly, it is Jordan’s primary conflict — that he feels abandoned and alone as his three close female friends start new lives in the blink of an eye — that connects most deeply with Irwin.

“I feel the conflict all the time,” Irwin said, “of being so happy for the people I love finding love, but also feeling as if, because they are growing, I’m losing something.” The combination of a sense of loss and excitement, especially around the emotionally fraught processes of planning and attending the weddings of close friends, has been one of the most fertile areas for him to dig around and find the character, he said.

What has made the process of becoming Jordan even more interesting, Irwin said, is that he feels that he’s a few steps ahead of him, emotionally speaking. To go back to “messy places,” as he calls them, has been fun, in a way.

“I feel like I’ve done the emotional work that I need to do in my life with the people I love,” Irwin said. “Diving into the character, you kind of have to undo some of that work. If anything, it’s making me kind of tear open some old wounds.”

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