Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
Straight White Men
Also see Fred's review of Cabaret
As patrons enter the theater lobby, they are greeted, through amplification, with loud hip hop lyrics vocalized by female rappers. This continues while two individuals whom we later find out are Person in Charge (Akiko Akita) and Person in Charge (Ashton Muñiz). Each walks the aisles to meet and greet those taking seats. This is of import since earplugs are offered as is an explanation that the blaring accompaniment (with profane reference to body parts) will soon end.
The actual play, directed by the talented Mark Lamos, begins when two actors mount the stage and articulate their gender identifications and backgrounds. Ed (Richard Kline) has been alone since his wife died, but he now houses the eldest of his three sons, Matt (Denver Milord). They appear in the finished basement area of the family home. Matt, bright and well educated, has a major student loan debt on his hands. He claims to be pleased just working at a small copying place which has a community affiliation. Middle brother Jake (Bill Army) has made quite a bit of money but is divorced. He is not averse to rough-housing with the youngest brother, Drew (Nick Westrate). Drew is a novelist and teacher, a man who also plays great value in therapy as a means to mental stability.
The siblings are unlike one another and espouse numerous theories as does their father, who is quite warm. Early on, a game of "Privilege" is showcased. The sons' late mother transformed and visually modified "Monopoly" to the current format which is on display this very Christmas Eve. The progressive mother had people (through her edited version of the game) going directly to jail should they be white. Kristen Robinson's appropriate set also includes a fake Christmas Tree, a sofa that looks extra-comfortable, and all proper trappings.
The men revisit holiday traditions as they wear plaid pajamas (thanks to costumer Fabian Fidel Aguilar). A meal of take-in Chinese food seems just the right fit. Gradually, Matt's decision-making becomes a focus, since some worry that this Harvard graduate should be making more of himself. Jake would probably let his older brother cope but Drew is certain that Matt could benefit from time spent with a great shrink. For sure, it's all about four straight white men.
Director Lamos pushes the pace and choreographer Alison Solomon does well to get Matt, Jake, Drew, and even oldster Ed dancing and moving. The brothers, probably all forty-something, are quite pliable and gymnastic. In fact, all the actors are physically dextrous and deliver their lines with understanding and precision, and a few moments of satire are quite effective. The brothers, for example, combine voices on a rendering of "Oklahoma!" with lyrics adjusted to KKK. That aspect of the show benefits the production.
The Persons in Charge assist in scene transition, but they do not speak again until the very end of this production when they close the proceedings. If playwright Young Jean Lee's intent was to get her audiences thinking, she has succeeded. The Persons in Charge provoke contemplation even as they are very much separate and apart from the sometimes comic and sometimes dramatic goings-on amongst the four men. On the other hand, it's impossible not to wonder if not question the initial "music," complete with its invasive percussive beat, which is anything but soothing.
Each of the men in the household represents a specific type and no one is completely repulsive. Raised by people who were evidently concerned about social justice, each brother falls easily back into good-old-days mode complete with behavior first demonstrated when they were kids.
Much of Straight White Men is solid and fine yet not a whole lot more. Aside from the presence of the Persons in Charge (and their presence is certainly experimental), this type of work is conventional. Mark Lamos, however, makes a bold move by bringing a distinctive and singular play to a theater located within Connecticut's Gold Coast region.
Straight White Men runs through June 5, 2022 at Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Ct., Westport CT. For tickets and information, call 203-227-4177 or visit westportplayhouse.org.