Steve Murray

Performing Arts Reviews

MTC SWM Ensemble HiRes

Straight White Men

Straight White Men

Written by Young Jean Lee
Directed by Morgan Goud
Marin Theatre Company

It’s open season on straight white men, what with them destroying humanity as we know it. Young Jean Lee’s Straight White Men gently exposes the façade of white male privilege by first endearing us to her characters, then shattering the idealistic
paradigm with a healthy dose of family dysfunction. No shattering eye opening fireworks, and no real resolution either, just a well-acted, well-directed existential dramedy.

The play centers on widowed Ed (James Carpenter), his live at home son Matt (Ryan Tasker) and two visiting sons Drew (Christian Haines) and Jake (Seann Gallagher), ready to enjoy the holidays. The first half of the play presents the men as four goof balls; razing each other mercilessly, eating Chinese takeout out of the cartons, playing video games and wearing special Xmas pajamas. It’s like a familial frat house and writer Lee wants us to like these guys.

The boys clown around in their Xmas pj’s.

Out of the blue, Matt cries during dinner and nothing will be the same after this unexpected outburst. The veneer of white male privilege is slowly peeled away as the family reacts to the elephant in the room – the response is awkward at first, then turns more reactive, then downright ugly.

These boys are not your stereotypical white males. Early on their mother taught them how “not to be assholes”. Playing a home-made version of Monopoly called Privilege, the drawing cards had cute titles like Denial and Excuses that might read “What I said wasn’t sexist/racist/homophobic because I was joking. Pay fifty dollars to the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center”.

Ed (James Carpenter) has a heart to heart with son Matt (Ryan Tasker).

Drew and Jake have made it, kinda; Drew is a college professor and novelist who writes about social justice, and Jake is a divorced banker who unapologetically accepts that he’s a “dickhead.” They’re having trouble understanding Matt, a Harvard grad who’s living with their father working at a menial temp job. He’s depressed, melancholy and burdened with huge financial school loan debt.

The joy is gone from the holidays as each of the family members grills Matt about his lack of motivation. Drew pushes therapy as a cure-all for Matt’s woes. Jake is the harshest on his brother, perhaps because he sees his brother as an example of privilege gone bust and it puts his whole zeitgeist into question. Finally, even the father turns on Matt, pushing him out of the nest to jumpstart Matt’s ambitions.

Morgan Gould, an assistant director with Young Jean Lee’s Theater Company, directs with adroit skill, allowing the simmering emotions to bubble and rise in sequence. The ensemble acting is superb; Carpenter’s father figure stoic and concerned, Tasker’s Matt troubled and unanchored, Gallagher’s Jake forceful and alarmed and Haine’s Drew clownish and threatened.

Straight White Men exposes the myth of white male privilege for what it is – a myth created by wealth, power and race dynamics. These four men were born white, but its no guarantee of greatness, morality or success.

Straight White Men continues through July 8th, 2018 at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley. Tickets available online at or by calling 415-388-5208.

Photo credits by Kevin Berne.