Making its Western Canadian premiere, Young Jean Lee’s Straight White Men is playing until February 15th at Gateway Theatre in Richmond.
Evolving since its 2014 off-Broadway debut, a Chicago restaging and 2018 Broadway debut featuring Armie Hammer and Josh Charles, Straight White Men arrives at Gateway Theatre as a tightly scripted, choreographed and staged production.
ITSAZOO Productions’ co-directors Chelsea Haberlin and Fay Nass bring the interesting material to life with the help of an able cast of (presumably) straight white men; Peter Anderson, Daniel Martin, Carlo Marks and Sebastien Archibald. Presented as thought the audience is watching a work hung in a gallery, each vignette is ‘painted’ by the Persons In Charge, Kim Villagante, a queer non-binary Filipinx musician-artist-actor and Raven John, a two-spirit comedian-activist of the Coast Salish & Sto:lo nation descent. Before each scene, the Persons in Charge, with the help if crew members, literally set the stage and place the men where we will next find them starting the scene, then they sit back and observe them.
The four men are spending the Christmas holidays together, brothers Jake and Drew are visiting their widowed father, Ed, and older brother Matt who has returned home to live, and care for Ed. As the men gather at the family home they revert to their childhood roles and reinforce their Christmas ‘traditions’ which seem to include a lot of fighting, dancing and eating. While they all come into the season comfortable their lives, the gathering makes everyone question the status quo and ‘big city’ brothers Jake and Drew each think they have the right answer for Matt’s current situation. Jake and Drew seem to try to ‘out-woke’ each other, each thinking they are more aware of their white man privilege and how best to counter it, in these culturally complicated times.
With so much happening in the play, the pace actually felt slow at times to me, perhaps since the men have reverted to children and aren’t fully communicating. They’re speaking without saying much, and definitely not listening to each other. Just as tension builds in each scene, the action stops and the Persons in Charge reset the stage.
While the quartet of actors are fully committed to the emotional roles, the roles themselves feel almost like caricatures and not really genuine, like every ‘white guy’ trope is shoehorned into the characters. The result is a well acted play, that does make people think; but also awkwardly applaud the uncomfortable actions of the family.
After the one act play, the second act is actually a Talk-Forward facilitated conversation with the cast and a special guest speaker, to discuss the play and its correlation to real world dymanics. Although I didn’t, it was very interesting to see the different ways that the play connected with the audience’s different demographics, and how the actors related to those reactions. Each night of the run will feature a different facilitator and special guest to discuss topics related to the show.
Straight White Men runs until February 15, 2020 at Gateway Theatre, 6500 Gilbert Road, Richmond. Visit gatewaytheatre.com/straight-white-men for showtimes and tickets.