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Straight White Men review at Helen Hayes Theater – ‘sharply observed’

With her perceptive study of Straight White Men, Young Jean Lee becomes the first Asian-American female playwright on Broadway.

Supported by director Anna D Shapiro’s taut production, they take a funny, poignant, provocative look at family, gender roles, and “progressive” tolerance.

Lee destabilises the traditional naturalistic living room play with Brechtian elements.

Two ‘Persons in Charge’ (non-binary performers Kate Bornstein and Ty Defoe) introduce themselves and the play, beseeching the audience to ruminate on their privilege and discomfort while watching. They oversee set changes, place actors, and when they’re in control, bold purple, pink, and blue lighting blazes.

When they’re not there vibrancy is lost. We’re left with the naturally-lit beige living room of straight white men celebrating Christmas. Drew (Armie Hammer) and Jake (Josh Charles) are visiting their widower father (Stephen Payne) and brother Matt (Paul Schneider). When Matt bursts into tears, the men panic. Desperate to “solve” Matt’s “problem,” they project their insecurities onto him but never listen to him.

Lee probes masculinity, power, and the gendered value of labour. She deftly captures the family’s rhythms as they oscillate from teasing to concern to argument, breaking the tension with humour and physicality — including a delicious dance break of every goofy white-guy-on-the-dance-floor move (perfectly choreographed by Faye Driscoll).

Charles puffs out his chest and peacocks, but he has a thin-skinned fragility underneath. Hammer’s positive facade as Drew slips, his voice getting higher, trepidation in his eyes. Schneider’s bursts of playfulness allow for glimpses of Matt’s impish past now dormant behind his lumpish quietude.

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Verdict
A superb cast excavates the emotional struggles of straight white men in a sharply observed and humorous play

Production

Production
Straight White Men
Venue
Helen Hayes Theater
City
New York
Starts
June 30, 2018
Ends
September 9, 2018
Press night
July 23, 2018
Authors
Young Jean Lee
Director
Anna D Shapiro
Set
Todd Rosenthal
Lighting
Donald Holder 
Sound
ML Dogg 
Costume
Suttirat Larlarb
Stage manager
Brian Bogin
Production manager
Jane Grey
Cast includes
Kate Bornstein, Josh Charles, Ty Defoe, Armie Hammer, Stephen Payne and Paul Schneider
Producer
Second Stage Theater
Running time
1hr 30mins