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Christmas is a time for family...a time for STRAIGHT WHITE MEN by female playwright Young Jean Lee. "Loud, lewd and purposely alien to the world of the set," female rappers assail the audience descending into Studio Theatre's Mead Theatre. The Stagehand-in-Charge (Jeymee Semiti), a black woman, takes the stage, cuts the music and starts the show. More on her later.

STRAIGHT WHITE MEN is the tale of a widowed father and his three sons gathering to celebrate Christmas, sans women. Set Designer Andrew Boyce's set is realistic and purposefully demonstrative of every middle class Midwestern home stereotype ever. Costume Designer Helen Huang reinforces this aesthetic; her men don plaids and jeans and kakis. Performed sans intermission, STRAIGHT WHITE MEN is blessedly short.

Director Shana Cooper renders a world of hyper-masculinity. The brothers communicate best when they interact physically. A row of bruises cascading down one actor's arm demonstrates this cast's dedication to the physicality of their roles.

As they men gather onstage it becomes apparent that, each in their own way, they strive to be liberal, socially-conscious men. They rag on their racist neighbor and reminisce over their mom's homemade game, "Privilege." A modified version of "Monopoly," "Privilege" features "Denial" cards: "I don't see race. Pay $200 in reparation." The next brother draws an "Excuses" Card: "What I just said wasn't racist/sexist/homophobic because I was joking. Pay $50 to an LGBT organization." Cue the nervous laughter from a largely white Studio Theatre audience...

Lee's brand of radical theatre is just as playful and goofy as it is razor-sharp.

The youngest brother Drew (Studio Theatre veteran Avery Clark), known to his brothers as "shit-baby" is an award-winning fiction writer whose latest offering was described as "a radical attack on the crassness of American materialism." He is tenaciously sensitive, an advocate of therapy.

Outwardly, Jake (Bruch Reed) is a high-powered tough guy. Secretly a big softy, he is the divorced father of bi-racial children and is heartbroken when his father Ed (a persistently perplexed, kindly Michael Winters) decides to forego the Santa suit.

The oldest brother Matt (Michael Tisdale) is disillusioned about his role as a white male and is in the midst of an existential breakdown. North of 40 and living with their father, Matt baffles his family who are unable to understand why he is a mere temp at an organization he should be running. Jake and Drew regard their older brother as their moral compass, reenacting in all its former glory an irreverent protest song a teenaged Matt wrote to the tune of "Oklahoma."

Bewildered, Ed draws an "Excuses" card: "I grew up in a different time."

Lee's creative process compels her to identify the "last show in the world" she'd ever want to create. She began her self-imposed odyssey into the straight white male psyche by work-shopping STRAIGHT WHITE MEN with female, queer and minority undergrads at Brown University, who played a pivotal role in shaping the leading men of STRAIGHT WHITE MEN.

The Stagehand-in-Charge is the role reserved for anyone who is not a white male. She commands the start and end of the play and sets the stage in-between scenes. Literally and figuratively in charge, unbeknownst to the straight men of STRAIGHT WHITE MEN, the Stagehand-in-Charge is the architect of their disastrous Christmas.

I've found STRAIGHT WHITE MEN to be a nagging and inescapable social conundrum illuminated by heartfelt performances and program research executed by a Studio Theatre team dedicated to enlightening and engaging its community.

STRAIGHT WHITE MEN runs through December 18thh at Studio Theatre located at 1501 14th St NW, Washington, DC, 20005. For tickets call (202) 332-3300 or click here.

Running Time: 85 minutes, one intermission

Photo Credits: 1. Michael Winters and Avery Clark. 2. Michael Tisdale, Avery Clark, and Bruch Reed. Photo by Teresa Wood.

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