BWW Review: STRAIGHT WHITE MEN Takes In-Depth Look at Importance of Unconditional Love
The West Coast premiere of the production STRAIGHT WHITE MEN written and directed by Young Jean Lee, continues at the Center Theatre Group/Kirk Douglas Theatre through December 20, 2015, presented in collaboration with Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA. The four-man cast features Frank Boyd, Richard Riehle, Brian Slaten and Gary Wilmes.
Obie Award-winning playwright Young Jean Lee defies expectations with a conventionally structured take on the classic American father-son drama as seen through the lens of an observer in her thought-provoking and witty new play "Straight White Men" which offers a traditionally structured take on the classic American father-son drama.
After a rather annoying and incredibly loud rap song during the pre-show, we meet Ed and his three adult sons who have gotten together to celebrate Christmas. They enjoy cheerful trash-talking, brotherly pranks and takeout Chinese, but find themselves confronting a problem that even being a happy family can't solve when youngest brother Matt seems upset about something he cannot share with his family. Their unconditional love is what matters when identity and privilege are problematic, for what is the value of being a straight white man if you have no real purpose or goals in life?
What makes the play magical are the four incredible actors who effectively suspend reality and make you feel as if they really are a family as they share remembrances and outrageous behavior only fathers and sons would dare share together. From the moment Ed (Richard Riehle) hands flannel pajamas to his sons on Christmas Eve, demanding they put them on immediately, we become flies on the wall watching the family drama unfold through tears as well as laughter. Youngest son Matt (Brian Slaten) has moved back home, seemingly putting aside his Harvard education to act as his Dad's caregiver, even though Ed seems perfectly capable to take care of himself. More successful brothers Jake (Gary Wilmes) and Drew (Frank Boyd) are befuddled as to why their brilliant brother would chose to take a temp job doing clerical work for a non-profit when his lofty and privileged upbringing and education should have prepared him to be the head of a multi-million dollar enterprise.
But for some reason, Matt has no interest in pursuing the American Dream like most straight white men and has chosen to live a more simple life, even though he must now struggle to pay off his student loans. And just why won't he accept money from his father to pay off those loans? It's a mystery never solved just as the only resolution of the play is when Ed throws Matt out, telling him it's time to move on. But again, that's about as close to a resolution you will get, which will lead to great discussions in the theater lobby with other audience members after the show as you share your thoughts and insights into the theme and meaning of the play.
Brian Slaten presents Matt as a loving son and brother, the kind of man who would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it. When his emotional breakdowns occur, Slaten easily sinks into the deep depression/confusion that is tormenting poor Matt, with his flow of tears taking little away from his masculinity. Boyd and Wilmes share the easy chemistry of brothers who love each other unconditionally and love to torment each other with unforgiving childhood memories, even sharing their own secret handshake and cleverly adapted songs. And it is easy to see how fun-loving father Ed is the perfect companion for his sons, especially after Richard Riehle joins in their comedic dancing. These four are the kind of family you will wish was part of your own!
Lee is a renowned playwright who experiments with theatrical forms in a continual effort to, in her words, "get past audiences' defenses against uncomfortable subjects and open people up to confronting difficult questions by keeping them disoriented and laughing." She has absolutely succeeded with STRAIGHT WHITE MEN.
Tickets are available online at www.CenterTheatreGroup.org, by calling CTG Audience Services at (213) 628-2772, in person at the Center Theatre Group box office (at the Ahmanson Theatre at the Music Center in downtown Los Angeles) or at the Kirk Douglas Theatre box office two hours prior to performances. Performances take place at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, located at 9820 Washington Blvd. in Culver City, CA 90232. Ample free parking is available in the City Hall underground parking structure with many restaurants adjacent along Washington and Culver Blvd.
Photos by Craig Schwartz
Ed and his sons celebrate Christmas Eve dressed in new pajamas, eating Chinese takeout food.