In an unusual reversal caused by the departure of its No. 2 theater critic, the New York Times relinquished its support of Significant Other once it arrived on Broadway.
What Charles Isherwood deemed “an entirely delightful new play” in his 2015 review off Broadway at the Roundabout, Ben Brantley found to be a “bubbly, teary comedy” that is reminiscent of Wendy Wasserstein but “talks too much and too explicitly” and might be more satisfying 20 minutes shorter. The review, which appears on page C3 in the paper rather than the section front, isn’t cited as a “critics’ pick.”
Under the best of circumstances, the star-less play by Joshua Harmon about a gay man (Gideon Glick) whose female friends are marrying off is an underdog. It played to a third of its gross potential in its last full week of previews. Its average ticket price, at $44, was the lowest on Broadway.
The producers, led by Jeffrey Richards, must make the most of notices in TimeOut New York (“uproarious and poignant”), The Hollywood Reporter (“lovely, bittersweet comedy about romantic yearning”) and Newsday (“slick, well-made, funny-sad new comedy”). In the Times, the play was mentioned more positively at the end of a Spring preview feature “32 Reasons to Get Out & Off the Couch” and in a real estate story about the light-filled Upper West Side apartment of Barbara Barrie, who plays the protagonist’s grandmother. Brantley does say Glick delivers an “expert performance” as part of a “thoroughly engaging and interdependent ensemble.”
A show lauded off-Broadway or regionally by a Times critic can usually count on his support on Broadway. But Brantley and Isherwood often disagreed, as evidenced by last night’s review. Other forthcoming plays championed by Isherwood are Lynn Nottage’s Sweat, a timely drama about a community ravaged by the loss of factory jobs, which opens on March 26; and Paula Vogel’s Indecent, which opens April 18 and is about a banned 1923 Yiddish play featuring a love scene between two women. Both are without stars and need critical support.
There is precedent for Richards or Harmon to raise a ruckus. After Frank Rich panned David Hare’s The Secret Rapture in October 1989, writing that the playwright misdirected his own work on Broadway after an excellent staging by Howard Davies in London, Hare wrote an open letter to Rich complaining that the critic was harming serious drama on Broadway. People still remember Variety’s headline about the kerfuffle: “Ruffled Hare Airs Rich Bitch.”