Straight White Men
In the play "Straight White Men" at Bryant Hall at Kalita Humphreys Campus, brother Jake, Drew and Matt have returned home for Christmas. Matt is currently living with their dad, maintaining the household and doing clerical work for a conscientious non-profit, outside the home.
All three are well-educated, articulate, and, thanks to their parents, politically and socially aware of the advantages of cultural privilege. They respect (and perhaps regret) the fact that they are higher up the opportunity ladder than gays, people of color, and women.
This being said, they often regress in each other's company: subjecting each other to taunting, strong-arming, body functions. They reminisce about boyhood alpha pranks such as games of "gay chicken" and forcing Drew to eat his feces at three. It's somewhat confusing, as Matt is also enlightened enough to protest an all-white production of "Oklahoma" and Jake has an African-American wife and children. Jake, Matt, Drew, and their dad Ed are evolved -- but are they evolved enough?
Before the play begins, crew members listed in the cast as "Person-in-Charge 1," "Person-in-Charge 2," (representing people of color, non-binary transgender...) rap, twerk, dance and sing to culturally defiant pieces celebrating the joys of diversity, female genitalia, and hedonistic sexuality. They sit along the parameters of the central action, following the text, putting the guys in position and helping them change between scenes. One of them grudgingly helps a performer move a piece of furniture, too big for him to manage by himself. Do they create a context for the narrative? Is their impact on the story parenthetical at best?
"Straight White Men's" plot turns on an incident during which Matt spontaneously chokes up and cries while they are enjoying Chinese food. During the meal they mention Dad's obsessive interest in puffins (an odd bird?) and joke that they are eating some. Mu Shu Puffin, General Tso's Puffin, this sort of thing.
Later Jake and Drew discuss helping Matt sort out this minor outburst, Jake feeling it's better to let Matt ask for help if he does at all. The next day the topic arises, Matt explaining it was a fluke. This gives way to further interrogation. They conclude he could not possibly be content in a job so far below his intelligence and pay grade.
He pleads (very convincingly) he's as happy as he's ever been, with no need to prove mastery in fields that don't interest him. In other words, much as the four disparage White Male Privilege, Matt's brothers and dad abandon him when he has no use for it. Happiness comes when he refuses "to play."
It's intriguing to watch the nuances and purposeful ambiguity of "Straight White Men" that seems to begin as satire and slowly, slowly turns. Elements, metaphors, and details are carefully placed. Apart from stockings already hung by the fireplace, they create Christmas together. We watch as they set up the tree, fix the lights, arrange the tree skirt.
They compliment the eggnog and Matt nonchalantly explains it came from a carton. Matt enjoys cooking for the others and maintaining the hearth, but wears an apron to do so. Much as they honor and love their deceased mother, they consider housework demeaning. The four seem to fall somewhere between progressive lip service and social anarchy.
Playwright Young Jean Lee has a good ear for raucous guy-play but generally, they don't come off as troglodytes. Perhaps these affable guys fail to grasp the discrepancy between lofty, conscientious intentions and personal practice.
"Straight White Men" runs through May 6 at Bryant Hall at Kalita Humphreys Campus, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd, Dallas, Texas 75219. For information or tickets, call 888-811-4111 or visit www.secondthoughttheatre.com