By Karen Isaacs
Sometimes you see a play and days later you are still trying to figure it out.
That’s the case with Straight White Men now at Westport Country Playhouse through Sunday, June 5.
My best guess is that this is a satire.
Written by Young Jean Lee the play is supposedly about three adult sons (30s to 40s) visiting their widowed Dad on Christmas. The three sons: Jake, Matt and Drew seem to immediately revert to adolescence with juvenile rough-housing, raucous teasing and insults. Dad looks on rather placidly.
Yes, each of the sons has some problems – including Jake’s pending divorce, but the play centers around Matt’s possible depression. He has moved home and seems content to keep house for his Dad and do temp work for an advocacy group.
Being 2022, the concept of white male guilt has to be brought in though the play was originally written in 2014. Is Matt sacrificing himself to assuage this? After all, he has advanced degrees and managed social action organizations. Why is he seemingly content with this arrangement? Is he depressed? Are his student loans the source of his depression? The other two brothers almost come to blows over their differing opinions on how the situation can be handled.
What pulls this from a typical sitcom/drama work is the introduction of two Persons in Charge. The two open the show with a scene that includes the usual pre-curtain announcements. Each has interacted with the audience during the preshow – which also features loud, sexually explicit music. One is gay, the other is nonbinary; each is a minority.
After the initial introduction, these two occasionally act as controllers of the show and the characters. For some of the scenes they position the other characters on the stage, treating them like mannequins; at other times they give the go-ahead for the play to continue.
I ended up with more questions or possibilities for interpretation than answers. These ranged from viewing it as a reverse of normal expectations – that these men exhibit stereotypes often associated with others or that the Persons in Charge are usually white men. But I thought of other possibilities.
This can be a problem for a play. While audiences are willing to work at understanding a play, most want to feel they come to a reasonable understanding. With this work, I remain unsure and therefore frustrated.
Director Mark Lamos manages the humor of the piece – there is humor in watching adult men act like teenager jerks and he also keeps the undertones of sadness also present.
Akiko Akita and Ashton Muñiz as the two Persons in Charge are sassy and engaging. As the three brothers, Nick Westrate as the more sensitive Drew, Bill Army as the self-proclaimed jerk Jake and Denver Milord as the puzzling eldest brother, Matt are all good. You do begin to understand each of them, though at times they are stereotypes. Richard Kline is a rather passive father who seems to adopt a “boys will be boys” attitude towards these almost middle-aged men.
The scenic design of a typical middle-class family basement den by Kristen Robinson is recognizable though it does seem to be a throwback to the 1960s complete with a Laz-a-Boy. Fabian Fidel Aguliar has created costumes that will make you smile – particularly when Dad brings out the Christmas pajamas that all must wear.
For tickets visit WestportPlayhouse.org