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Theater Review: Civic play ‘Significant’

What’s significant about “Significant Other” is that when it comes down to it, the “Other” who is “Significant” happens to be oneself.

“Self-love,” the pop psychology cliché embraced by Millennials (born circa early 1980s - mid-1990s), with a myriad of meanings, stretches back to “The Me Generation” as defined by novelist and social-trend gadfly Tom Wolfe in the 1970s’ “Me Decade” as it applied to Baby Boomers (born circa 1946 - 1965) and through the centuries to a sort of Solipsism promulgated by a Greek, Gorgias (circa 483 - 375 BC).

To put it another way, as Descartes (1596 - 1650) did, “Cogito, ergo sum,” or in modern parlance, “I think, therefore I boogie.”

And boogie-down they do in “Significant Other,” in high-energy dance segues that link the thought-provoking play, continuing in its Lehigh Valley premiere, March 25, 26 and 27, Theatre514. Civic Theatre of Allentown.

While the characters in the play are ISO (In Search Of) their significant other, and some have found them, at the center of this universe is Jordan Berman (Matt Gurniak), who has not.

During the opening night March 18 performance seen for this review, Gurniak was remarkable in every way, including his dance moves. Moreover, Gurniak portrays a range of emotions, hitting all the right notes that renders this a performance to remember. Those who see Gurniak in “Significant Other” may say, “I saw him when.” This young man is Broadway-, Netflix- and Hollywood-bound.

The cast is superb, as is the production, directed by Civic Theatre of Allentown Associate Artistic Director Will Morris with his trademark eye for detail (down to a double-shadow lighting effect cast by characters in key moments).

Morris and Civic are establishing Theatre514 as an off-Broadway equivalent. The level of acting, stagecraft and production values are equal to what you’d see in New York or Philadelphia.

Morris directs with a cinematic certainty. Sets spin. Scenes change with head-spinning speed. A character steps out of a scene for audience direct-address commentary. Another character relates an anecdote which then becomes a scene. Cell phones, emails and the like of contemporary communication inform the plot. The entire effect is like stepping into a movie.

As a director, Morris has the ability to give actors flight. Gurniak especially conveys this joy of theater with moon-face smile, exuberant body language and an ability to fold up like a rag doll and let the emotions cry like tears.

Most importantly, Gurniak brings intelligence and insight to bear on the “other,” as society has often relegated queer culture, presenting a window through his eyes and heart to an uncommonly honest view.

It’s all there in the immersive script by “Significant Other” playwright Joshua Harmon, who through sharp dialogue and trenchant observations, makes us feel the happiness and sadness of a gay person alone in the world. It’s heart-aching and powerful.

Gurniak and Morris get it, all to the audience’s benefit. So does the entire cast.

Veronica Bocian (Kiki) makes a bawdy role cute and innocent. Her loosey-goosey mannerisms, great comedic timing and droll line delivery provide many of the play’s biggest laughs.

Amira F. Jackson (Vanessa) is a dynamic presence and conveys a thoughtful interior life. She voices her character’s concerns, especially in a monologue that is memorable.

Cindy Lozada (Laura) creates a believable quiet intensity. She explodes in frustration in a scene that is startling and compelling.

Denise Long (Helene), as the play’s non-Millennial, is hilarious with some of the play’s best zingers, which she invokes deliciously.

John Capocasale, in multiple roles (Will, Conrad, Tony), has a stunning stage presence. He successfully delineates the three roles.

Parker Ryan, also in multiple roles (Evan, Roger, Zach), moves easily from one character to the next.

Theater514 lends itself to this celebration of intimacy, a principal theme in the play. The minimalist set, popsicle-hued lighting and thumping dance tunes are riveting.

Kudos to Scenic Designer and Technical Director Alexander Sharkey, Scenic Artist Jan Joyce, Lighting and Costume Designer Paul Halada, Propmaster Jason Sizemore, Sound Designer Randall Utsch, and Hair and Wig Designer Kim Danish.

Until you find your significant other, or if you already have one, go see “Significant Other.”

See theater, find yourself; therefore, you are.

“Significant Other,” 7:30 p.m. March 25, 26; 2 p.m. March 27, Theatre514, Civic Theatre of Allentown. Proof of immunization and face masks are required. Tickets: www.civictheatre.com; 610-433-8903

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO Matt Gurniak (Jordan Berman), “Significant Other,” Civic Theatre of Allentown.