Straight White Men
Young Jean Lee’s play with ambitious ideas has come to Broadway after a number of productions around the country including a run at The Public Theatre. The ensemble cast of four gives a rich and fully drawn performance with relatable clarity.
Starting with an introduction by a non-binary person and a transgender Native American, straight white men are immediately presented as not always accommodating to the needs of others.
The play is a fascinating and thought-provoking missive on the theme of white maleness and the inherent privilege that supposedly comes with that mantle. This is even comically demonstrated through the family of three brothers engaging in a game of “Privilege,” a board game created by their mother (since deceased) to teach them to have humanity.
The brothers comprise Jake, who is an aggressive and driven banker, Drew, an academician and novelist who is slanted toward sensitivity and Matt, the eldest, who is the smartest of the lot but has rejected his privilege and is a temporary at a social services agency. It is this third brother that encompasses the thrust of the play’s theme: his severely conflicted consciousness that he understands but cannot articulate to the others.
The family is rounded out by their benevolent and sympathetic father who only wants, and expects, his sons to be happy, successful and enjoying the privilege granted them at birth without being overbearing about it.
A variety of scenes unfold on a set with a proscenium covered by a wooden frame that includes a gold title plaque at bottom center as if the play is an artwork that one might contemplate in a museum, with the placing of subject matter as a live animation portrait of a family of men.
The play presents all that is endearing, as well as obnoxious, about the characters and what they represent. The theory that came to me was that the three brothers symbolize the major aspects and conflicts within a single straight white man in a contemporary world and how he comes to reconcile dramatic cultural shifts without losing himself, or all that makes him straight and white, completely.
Which is a tall order indeed.
Straight White Men runs at the Helen Hayes Theater.