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Smart and funny 'Significant Other' delights at BUA

Adulting is hard.

And for Jordan Berman, a young gay man living in loveless terror of his impending 30th birthday and watching his female friends marry off one by one, it's becoming harder by the day.

Jordan's struggle to find happiness, to project his outsized emotions somewhere beyond his own addled brain, drives the action of Joshua Harmon's smart play "Significant Other," which runs through April 14 in the Alleyway Theatre, presented by Buffalo United Artists.

The piece, directed with evident attention to humor and pacing by Chris Kelly, seems written precisely for the strengths of this company.

The action exists in a heightened state of reality, somewhere past the constructed world of "Will and Grace," with strategic dashes of camp and too-perfect scenarios so well written that their inauthenticity hardly matters. Even in this exaggerated atmosphere of precooked quips and gags, the play and its tortured protagonist reach impressive emotional depths.

These are a lot of seemingly disparate factors to keep in mind at once, and this charming young cast performs more than ably under Kelly's smart direction.

Up to this point in his life, Jordan's emotional needs have been met by his three close friends, Laura, Vanessa and Kiki (Sabrine Kahwaty, Lissette DeJesus and Maria Droz), each of whom falls into a relationship while Jordan (Matthew J. DiVita) fruitlessly pursues elusive targets like his co-worker Will (Anthony J. Grande). All of these actors shine.

Much of the humor comes from Jordan's trio of girlfriends, a kind of millennial Greek chorus collectively narrating a story of the slow death of youthful codependence and spontaneity.

Kahwaty, as Jordan's best friend, is fully believable in embodying the secret codes and affinities only close friends develop. DeJesus, as the pessimistic Vanessa, has her comic timing down and achieves more in her facial expressions than most actors wring out of a page of dialogue. Droz, as the flighty Kiki, is wildly over-the-top, but then so is her character. (The extreme behavior of Kiki, exaggerated even further by Droz, is the only false note in the play.)

To the cynical theatergoer, Jordan might appear as a self-obsessed human whimper, a simpering embodiment of millennial entitlement and emotional fragility. But playwright Harmon paints the character in realistic shades of gray, with illuminating hints about mental health challenges and deeply sensitive reflections on love, family and heteronormativity.

DiVita's portrayal adds more layers to this already nuanced character, zeroing in on Jordan's insecurities and seeming to truly lose himself in flights of fancy about the man he's obsessed with. "Oh God, I hate being a person," he says, in one typically dramatic bout of self-loathing. "I wish I was a rock."

DiVita truly owns his character in an impressive monologue at the beginning of the second act, winding through a series of disappointing phone conversations with his unavailable friends and finally landing on his grandmother (the wonderful Darleen Pickering Hummert) for some much-needed advice.

Another highlight comes during the inevitable conflict between Jordan and Laura, in which both he and Kahwaty give moving performances.

All of this unfolds on a typically sparse set nicely lit by Carly Weiser, and in fine costumes, some of which were designed by Chevon Davis.

While the material might seem directed squarely at a niche audience of gay men or their female besties, the theme of Harmon's play is universal. It holds lessons, and no small amount of humor, for anyone who has ever contemplated the romantic, mental or even self-invented challenges of growing up.

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Theater Review

3 stars (out of four)

"Significant Other" runs through April 14 in the Alleyway Theatre, 1 Curtain Up Alley, in a Buffalo United Artists production. Tickets are $15 to $25. Call 886-9239 or visit buffalobua.org.

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