“Straight White Men” at Marin Theatre Company

“Straight White Men” at Marin Theatre Company

Carol Benet

“Straight White Men” at Marin Theatre Company in Mill Valley, California is a fitting ending to a successful season.  It is completely enjoyable but it is not a piece of fluff despite its humour.  It deals with serious issues facing straight white men.

A play for 6 actors written by Young Jean Lee and directed by Morgan Gould, a talented pair, takes on the mythos of the privileged white man in American society and turns it upside down.   In an almost hilarious portrayal of three middle-aged brothers gathering at their widowed father’s house over the Christmas holiday, there is much laughter, but then there is not.

Before the play opens, an actor in a hoodie engages the audience into dancing to very loud music from an album by an all-female rapper band. Many people do join him near their seats or in the aisles.  He has earplugs to distribute.  He tells the audience that with this super, over-loud music he knows they will be uncomfortable, the point of the entire play witnessed by a main-stream theater goer of today, i.e. a white audience.

Then he transforms into an actor of unidentifiable sex. He is one of the Two People in Charge, one of whom brings out a spotlight and directs it onto the audience in a Brechtian gesture showing that this is theater not reality.  The male (J. Jha) is a raging homosexual or a bi- sexual or a trans. Wearing a colorful skirt  (costumes by Rumiko Bielefeldt), he makes it clear what pronouns are to used for him/they/him/she/they and so on. His counterpart Arianna Evans mimes everything he says.  They stay on the sidelines of the stage during the performance and serve to bring and take props onto it.  He tells the audience to “Enjoy your moment of privilege”, one of the themes of the play.

Then the drama begins. Upon greeting each other, two of the brothers meet in the family room (set by Luciana Stecconi) and precede to act like children again with taunting,  joshing and wrestling.  They play a politically correct version of Monopoly that their dead mother introduced to them when they were kids and of course start arguing who will get the little metal iron as their token.  One of them pulls a card instructing them that  “A person of color must go immediately to jail.”

Drew (Christian Haines) mimics an airplane and noisily flies around the room and into his brother Jake’s  (Seann Gallagher) face.  They have reverted to childhood despite the bald spot on Drew’s head.  He is a professor and successful author in his grown-up life, but here in his father’s family room, the two of them act-out like out of control grade-school kids.

Enter the father Ed played by one of the Bay Area’s most favorite actors James Carpenter.  At first he is happy they came to spend the Christmas holiday with him.  They help him carry a slightly defective artificial tree that he just bought.  When they are out of the room he fills the stockings on the mantle with the traditional items including candy canes.  As in the past, he gifts them plaid flannel pajamas and insists they put them on immediately.

The downtrodden third brother Matt (Ryan Tasker) is now living at home where he is helping his father and is trying to pay off his student loans from his years as an undergrad at Harvard and 10 years of graduate school at Stanford.  He works as a temp in a community center in a routine service job.  Matt is the most complicated as he is depressed.  Matt’s scene where he vacuums the mess that his father made in overturning a bowl is so funny until it becomes pathetic.

The others try to build up Matt’s self-confidence and even stage a mock-interview that they hope would be helpful should he ever have an interview.   The opening question Ed asks is “Why are you interested in working for the foundation.”

Jake is a recently divorced banker and has two bi-racial children.  Here is where the privileged straight white men theme comes into the story for he tells them that in his bank he sees qualified minorities who are always passed over for jobs.  It’s always the straight white guys who gets the job. The brothers all know that they are privileged but that does not make them happy.  Matt spent time in Nigeria and said that he “Was an unqualified teacher teaching natives what they did not want to learn.“ Now he doubts that there is usefulness in anything and he ignores his brothers’ suggestions.  Drew said he should have therapy and Jake telling him success is all about selling yourself.  The play abruptly ends in a quandary.

“Straight White Men” is a bitter but loving look at a family in crisis about which they are unaware.  It is a smart, well-performed and enjoyable production that will open off-Broadway in New York City this summer.  It runs through July 8, 2018 at Marin Theatre Company.  marintheatre.org or (415) 388-5208.

 

About the Author

Carol BenetCarol Benet received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of California, Berkeley, where she won an Outstanding Teaching Award. She also received a B.A. in English and an M.A. in French Language and Literature from the University of Michigan. Her teaching assignments have been at UC Berkeley, UC Berkeley Extension, Dominican University and Washington State University. Currently she holds literature discussion groups in Marin County and San Francisco and is a critic of the arts for The Ark Newspaper and a contributor to ARTSSF.com and ForAllEvents.com.View all posts by Carol Benet →