Photo: Ruby Washington




  • TM

Opening Night:
November 7, 2014
December 14, 2014

Theater: Public Theater / Delacorte Theater in Central Park, New York, NY,


When Ed and his three adult sons come together to celebrate Christmas, they enjoy cheerful trash-talking, pranks, and takeout Chinese. Then they confront a problem that even being a happy family can't solve: when identity is the cornerstone of one's worth, and privilege is increasingly problematic, what is the value of being a straight white man?

  • NEW YORK TIMES REVIEW OF Straight White Men

    My Three Sons and All Their Troubles

    Charles Isherwood

    November 18, 2014: They bestride the world, or at least the West, like colossi. Thronging the halls of Congress and, until just recently, the Oval Office. Running giant corporations. Meeting and greeting at powwows in Switzerland. I speak of the species known as the straight white male, the most unoppressed of the world’s peoples. They are feared, envied, occasionally attacked and derided. But pitied? Not so much. The signal surprise of Straight White Men, written and directed by the ever-audacious Young Jean Lee, is that the play is not a full-frontal assault on the beings of the title. True, Ms. Lee does show these creatures in their natural habitat — among other straight white men — sometimes behaving like overgrown boys: sitting zombie-eyed on the couch, obsessively fiddling with a black plastic implement and slaughtering digital foes by the dozen; eating Chinese food right out of the boxes; razzing one another with puerile jokes. But Ms. Lee’s fascinating play, at the Public Theater, goes far beyond cheap satire, ultimately becoming a compassionate and stimulating exploration of one man’s existential crisis. Believe it or not, Ms. Lee wants us to sympathize with the inexpressible anguish of her protagonist, a middle-aged, upper-middle-class straight white man named Matt who has failed to follow the codes of achievement that he’s expected to conform to. The play takes place over the Christmas holidays, where three brothers are assembled at the family home, somewhere in the Midwest, to keep company with their widowed father. None come with wife, girlfriend or children in tow. The youngest, Drew (Pete Simpson), is an award-winning fiction writer. The middle boy, Jake (Gary Wilmes), is a hotshot banker with the swagger to match. Matt (James Stanley) is the oldest, and despite graying temples — he’s definitely north of 40 — he’s been living with Dad for a while now, working a series of small-time temp jobs at do-gooding social organizations.


    Straight White Men Theatre Review

    Matthew Murray

    November 18, 2014: Almost by definition, the person who has everything must also carry a heavy burden. What that burden is, however, and whether it's the same for everyone is an entirely different matter. In her new play Straight White Men, which just opened at The Public Theater, Young Jean Lee explores — and works to explode — the notion that members of the group of the title always have it easy. Or that they deserve everything they have. Or, uh, that they don't. It's a bit diffuse, yes, but that's much of the point: No one, not even those generally perceived as being at the top of the societal ladder, is ever any one thing, and pretending they are is its own form of prejudice — and one most people would prefer to not talk about. It's difficult, after all, to pin down. But is that a good reason to not do it? Not for Lee, who packs an astounding amount of commentary — and some flab — into 90 subdued minutes. This is right in line with her previous works, which have similarly tackled issues surrounding African-Americans (The Shipment), Asian-Americans (Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven), Christians (Church), and women (Untitled Feminist Show). So it was only a matter of time until she aimed her lens at the sector variously seen as responsible for most of the good in the modern world, the most devastating acts known to humankind, or, well, maybe something between the two extremes.


    Terrific cast explores one family's troubles in a solid drama by Young Jean Lee

    Joe Dziemianowicz

    November 18, 2014: In Straight White Men, Young Jean Lee puts her stamp on the classic father-son drama to look at the meaning of privilege and success in a well-known tribe — in this case, a typical, well-off family of white guys. Modest but smart and thought-provoking, the play is noteworthy for being the most conventional work Lee, who’s known for her experiments, has presented. The setting is the den of a comfortable home. Before the show, profane rap blares, hinting that this holiday story isn’t about comfort and joy even thought it starts upbeat. Middle sib Jake (Gary Wilmes), a banker, and younger brother Drew (Pete Simpson), a hotshot writer and college professor, are engaged in horseplay and roughhousing. But things turn sour when their big brother, Matt (James Stanley), inexplicably weeps in front of them and their father (the hard-working Austin Pendleton).

  • VULTURE REVIEW OF Straight White Men

    Straight White Men Is Impressive (Not Oppressive)

    Jesse Green

    November 18, 2014: In 2003, when she was not yet 30, Young Jean Lee founded a theater company for the purpose of producing her own work. Call it savvy, or call it hubris, but the move was bold, especially for an artist who is implicitly noncommercial and explicitly experimental. Her company’s goal, she wrote, is “to find ways to get past our audiences’ defenses against uncomfortable subjects … by keeping them disoriented and laughing.” Over the years, those uncomfortable subjects have typically involved sexuality, gender, race, and mortality; the means of disorientation have been likewise diverse. Lee’s Lear was an intervention that left King Lear himself out of the picture. (Before ditching academia, Lee was a Shakespeare scholar.) We’re Gonna Die was less a play than a montage of deadpan monologues and sing-along pop. Untitled Feminist Show, her most recent work in New York, was nearly mute and mostly nude. But eleven years is a long time to balance a company on the crest of the next wave, and a reputation for disorientation can be hard to keep up. As you enter the Public Theater’s Martinson Hall, where her latest “experiment” is playing, you may therefore find yourself asking whether Lee, now 40, has gone mainstream. The title alone — Straight White Men — makes you wonder what she’s up to, as does David Evans Morris’s Suburban Banal family-room set, complete with wall-to-wall carpet, a leatherette sofa, an exercise bike, and a dartboard. Deliberately overlit by Christopher Kuhl, it seems like a diorama in a museum of contemporary anthropology: the Lair of the Petite Bourgeoisie. Walking past it on the way to your seats, noticing the Christmas stockings hung by the chimney with care, I had the sinking feeling that instead of the hoped-for disorientation, I was in for one of those naturalistic home-for-the-holidays dramas in which mild family tensions arrive with the eggnog. And in a way, I was. But not to worry: The preshow music, specified in the script, is “loud hip-hop with nasty lyrics by female rappers” played fortissimo. “Ride dick like a pro, throw the pussy like I’m famous,” went one line. Consider me disoriented.


    Straight White Men: Yep, that's what it's about…sort of

    Zachary Stewart

    November 18, 2014: Playwright/director Young Jean Lee is the Madonna of experimental theater, constantly reinventing herself. You could see her 2011 cabaret act We're Gonna Die and her 2012 dance piece Untitled Feminist Show and never know they were authored by the same person. This also applies to Lee's Straight White Men, now making its New York premiere at the Public Theater. Appropriately, this living room drama about white men takes place in a white living room (designed by David Evans Morris): The carpet is white; the furniture is white; the closets and walls are white. But wait…is that a black nativity scene on the mantel? Perhaps these aren't the straight white men that launched a thousand Internet think pieces about whom you've heard so much. Jake (Gary Wilmes), Drew (Pete Simpson), and Matt (James Stanley) are adult brothers, returned for Christmas to the home of their father, Ed (Austin Pendleton, playing this role more convincingly than most dads on TV). As they wait for Ed and Matt to arrive with the Christmas tree, Jake (a banker) and Drew (a professor) play a round of "Privilege," a Monopoly board that their parents repurposed to teach their three white sons about the inherent privilege they enjoy in the United States of America. (A typical card in the "chance" pile calls on its holder to pay $200 in reparations for the crime of claiming, "I don't see race.") Seeing the open board game on his coffee table, Ed asks his sons with a chuckle, "How else were you gonna learn not to be assholes?"



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