Will (August Browning) is Jordan’s (Kyle Cameron) obscure object of desire. His blond hair, nice pecs, cool demeanor and pretty blue eyes are easy for him to project a fantasy onto. When they both attend a company pool party, Jordan rhapsodizes to his friends about the details of Will’s half-naked body. He describes the shape of his shoulders, the color of his arm hair and the kind of belly button he has (an innie). Jordan’s so inflamed by desire he expresses a wish to be the concrete underneath Will’s feet to collect the drops of water falling off of his skin. That’s how far removed Jordan is from contact or connection with an actual man. With that early monologue in Significant Other (at San Francisco Playhouse through June 15), the playwright Joshua Harmon captures something essential about gay male desire when it’s deformed by neurosis. Jordan allows himself to qualify for Will’s attention only if he holds himself that low to the ground.
Will’s impassiveness only increases Jordan’s obsession. He can fantasize abstractly about love, lust and romance but in reality Jordan knows next to nothing about him. Apart from the fact that Will turns him on, Jordan’s urgent longing for a partner is also being prompted by his three best friends — all women. The play opens at KiKi’s (Hayley Lovgren) bachelorette party. She’s the first of the group to be getting married and it’s contributing to and amping up his sense of panic. At 29, Jordan watches them date, couple up, walk down the aisle and step away from the intimacy he shares with each of them. He feels like time is running out.
Kyle Cameron is miscast as the pathologically insecure Jordan. His messed-up insides don’t match his outside appearance, and Cameron compensates for being the tallest actor on stage by slouching and flailing his arms about, visibly uncomfortable in his own body. Cameron himself is trim and angular with dark, expressive eyes. By any objective set of criteria, Jordan is as handsome as Will. They look like a complementary pair. On paper, Harmon hasn’t accounted for the character’s social awkwardness in dating.
His Jewish mother is mentioned in passing, his father not at all. He delivers medicine to his grandmother (Joy Carlin) on a weekly basis but this only establishes him as a kind-hearted fellow. If Cameron didn’t have the conventional good looks of a leading man, his self-doubt would make more sense. If you closed your eyes and just listened to the performance, it sounds like Jordan’s physical appearance should place him on the bottom rung of a hierarchy that’s instantly recognizable to any gay man (or bitter queen) who’s ever been in a queer-”friendly” bar or club.
And yet, despite this apparent disconnect, Cameron’s charismatic performance is credible and true. As the play moves along at a gingerly pace, you can feel the actor gathering bits and pieces of Jordan’s psychology to put the character together. When he delivers an angry, incisive rant to Laura (Ruibo Qian), the last of his friends to marry, it’s a triumphant moment that comes from the character’s fully formed thoughts and emotions. In that stream of invective, he avoids falling into Jordan’s tendency towards self-pity. He’s put it together in his head, right then and there, that heterosexual privilege is real and damaging. And he’s able to articulate an impassioned argument to back up his case.
In order to do this, Jordan has to abandon the role of, as he puts it, a jester. For him, and many other gay men, it’s often impossible to take off that multi-colored fool’s cap, the one with all those jangling bells. It’s a technique used to disarm, amuse and comfort straight people so that they’ll accept, tolerate or not disapprove of queerness. The hardest thing Jordan does in Significant Other is to take that moment to be a bad, unsupportive friend. But he does so to state his needs and his reasonable fear that he’s being abandoned.
Harmon skims over Jordan’s inability to have platonic friendships with other gay men. It’s a key point that the playwright addresses in a short scene but doesn’t develop. Once his girlfriends are married and his isolation kicks into overdrive, it dawns on Jordan that he needs to find somebody else to mirror him. Someone other than a straight woman. Will & Grace relationships are fun, meaningful and mutually fulfilling — up to a point. At the end of the play, it’s clear that Jordan’s maturing but that he’s got a ways to go before he finds his longtime companion, husband or significant other.
Significant Other, through June 15, at S.F. Playhouse, 450 Post St. $35-$125; 415-677-9596 or sfplayhouse.org/sfph