“Straight White Men,” written and directed by Young Jean Lee, made its New York premiere at the Public Theatre with a stellar cast in November and has been extended through December 14th. Obie-award winner Young Jean Lee and her theatre company have made a splash on the theatre scene with her provoking plays that challenge social perceptions, while providing the audience with a healthy dose of humor. In “Straight White Men” she takes the conventional classic father-son drama and creates an unconventional play tackling the issues of privilege, identity, and the value of being a straight white male in the 21st century. Three adult brothers return home to the Midwest to visit their widowed father Ed (Austin Pendleton) for Christmas. The three-day holiday vacation is riddled with family jokes that trail from childhood into adulthood, such as the youngest brother’s nickname “Shit Baby.” The tough brotherly love is lightened by endearing matching Christmas jammies, a family sing-a-long to “Oklahoma!” and a game of Monopoly that has been aptly renamed “Privilege” in their late mother’s effort to raise her boys to “not be assholes.” Drew (Pete Simpson) and Jake (Gary Wilmes) have found their own paths as an author and city banker, respectfully. The eldest brother and politically conscious leftie Matt (James Stanley), however, is the brother with the largest potential having attended Harvard and consequently burdened with an inexorable amount of student loans. Living at home with Ed and working at a temp agency, Matt has been deemed not “male” or “white” enough by his brothers. The seemingly contented family confronts Matt’s “choice” to be recluse and what it means to be successful in today’s world as a white male. As a Korean woman, Young Jean Lee disregards ethnicity in writing and has successfully ventured to write a voice for the straight white male- an unexpected endeavor. With talkback sessions at The Public, Young Jean Lee is continually learning from the audience how to best sculpt the perspective of white men. Young Jean Lee herself has defied many odds by breaking-through in the white male dominated world of playwriting. The production is naturalistic, yet Young Jean Lee’s experimental and avant-garde roots undermine the hum-drum recreational room set filled with an elliptical machine, a dartboard and a lop-sided artificial Christmas tree. The house music before curtain blasts female rap music with “nasty lyrics” (as noted in the stage directions), to perhaps disorient the audience from expecting the quintessential living-room family drama. Which it isn’t- it is much more than that.
Straight White Men
Written and directed by Young Jean Lee; associate director, Emilyn Kowaleski; sets by David Evans Morris; lighting by Christopher Kuhl; costumes by Enver Chakartash; original music and remixes by Chris Giarmo; sound by Jamie McElhinney; dramaturgy by Mike Farry; movement by Faye Driscoll; production stage manager, Stephanie Byrnes Harrell; associate producer, Matthew Kagen; associate artistic director, Mandy Hackett; associate producer, Maria Goyanes; production executive, Ruth E. Sternberg. Presented by the Public Theater, Oskar Eustis, artistic director; Patrick Willingham, executive director; and Young Jean Lee’s Theater Company, Ms. Lee, artistic director; Aaron Rosenblum, producing director. At the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street, at Astor Place, East Village; 212-967-7555, publictheater.org. Through Dec. 7. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes.
WITH: Austin Pendleton (Ed), Pete Simpson (Drew), James Stanley (Matt) and Gary Wilmes (Jake).