In SpeakEasy’s ‘Significant Other,’ he’s outside the chapel of love, looking in
One of the pleasures of theatergoing is that every now and then you happen to be in the audience when a performer steps up and seizes his moment.
Greg Maraio does precisely that in SpeakEasy Stage Company’s “Significant Other,’’ a comically incisive journey across the jagged landscape of 20-something friendship, dating, marriage, and love that is directed by Paul Daigneault.
Maraio, who grew up in East Boston, has been steadily building his reputation by delivering solid performances on local stages over the past decade. Now, having been cast in the juicy lead role of this New England premiere of a comedy by the red-hot Joshua Harmon (whose “Bad Jews’’ was at SpeakEasy in 2014), Maraio responds with a Garoppolo-like embrace of his big opportunity.
He delivers an impressively modulated and multifaceted portrayal of Jordan Berman, a gay man on the cusp of 30 who feels abandoned, alone, and adrift as his three female friends start getting married, one after another. Maraio ranges skillfully and vividly across the emotional spectrum as Jordan recalibrates his place in the trio’s lives, and in the world. The actor makes us believe in the joy Jordan takes in the company of his friends and in the depth of his bewilderment, loneliness, and anger as once-solid ground starts shifting beneath his feet. Maraio builds so much sympathy for the character that we actively root for Jordan and forgive his occasional slippage into self-pity.
Similarly, playwright Harmon’s bracingly astringent wit and his trenchant insights into the complicated nature of long-term friendship incline us to overlook the detours into soap-opera territory that “Significant Other’’ makes.
The first of Jordan’s friends to traipse off to the altar is party-girl Kiki (Sarah Elizabeth Bedard). Next is Vanessa (Kris Sidberry), who was prone to chronic unhappiness before she found wedded bliss. And finally matrimony beckons to Laura (Jordan Clark), the friend to whom Jordan is closest, the one who has often been his date to other people’s weddings.
Jordan is yearning for a soulmate of his own, but he’s floundering, uncertain whether a co-worker named Will whom he’s attracted to is gay or not. This greatly complicates the question of whether Jordan should send Will an e-mail making clear his feelings. Will is portrayed by Jared Troilo, who adds another stellar turn to his growing roster of indelible performances. Troilo also plays a couple of other roles, and Eddie Shields adeptly shoulders three roles as well.
At the helm is director Daigneault, who brings his trademark vibrancy to the proceedings. The producing artistic director and founder (in 1992) of SpeakEasy, Daigneault has a gift for making the stage hum with energy, as he showed with “Dogfight’’ and “Violet,’’ just to name two from this year. One scene flows rapidly into another on the streamlined set of SpeakEasy’s “Significant Other’’ (designed by Christopher and Justin Swader) as brief fantasy sequences punctuate Jordan’s frustrating real life.
“It feels like all my friends are dying,’’ Jordan tells his octogenarian grandmother and confidante, portrayed by Kathy St. George. Playwright Harmon later underscores that analogy a bit too directly when Jordan blurts out to Laura that “your wedding is my funeral,’’ and compounds the minor dramaturgical damage with Jordan’s plaint about “a funeral for the Laura we all used to know.’’
Maraio is compelling when Jordan finally gives voice to his epic feelings of betrayal in that scene with Laura. But Maraio is also able to capture Jordan’s transition from insider to outsider in the friend group in a single scene without saying a word. It occurs when Laura, Vanessa, and Kiki are talking and talking and talking about flowers and wedding cake and husbands in a rising crescendo, while Jordan sits, isolated and silent. Maraio’s face is a changing palette that registers confusion, attentiveness, anxiety, attempts at stoicism, and finally panic.
“There are actually a lot of really good people in this world who never find someone, and I could be one of those people,’’ he says later to Laura. “So then what? Then what happens to me?’’
A heartwrenching question. But SpeakEasy’s production of “Significant Other” ultimately leaves you with the feeling that either way, Jordan is going to be OK.
Play by Joshua Harmon. Directed by Paul Daigneault. Presented by SpeakEasy Stage Company. At Roberts Studio Theatre, Calderwood Pavilion, Boston Center for the Arts, through Oct. 8. Tickets: 617-933-8600, www.speakeasystage.com