Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay


Straight White Men
Marin Theatre Company
Review by Patrick Thomas | Season Schedule

Also see Patrick's reviews of Good, Better, Best, Bested and A Walk on the Moon and Jeanie's review of Stairway to Paradise


Christian Haines, Ryan Tasker, Seann Gallagher,
and James Carpenter

Photo by Kevin Berne
In the past year or so, several plays produced by Bay Area companies have addressed—either directly or obliquely—the concept of white privilege and the ways it both subtly and overtly informs life in America for people of color and white people alike, including: An Octoroon, Hooded; or Being Black for Dummies, Anna Deavere Smith's Notes from the Field, "Master Harold"...and the Boys, and Marin Theatre Company's controversial production of Thomas and Sally. In its latest production, MTC has once again ventured into the treacherous waters of race relations in America, this time with Young Jean Lee's Straight White Men.

Unfortunately, while this production—among all those I've just listed—is the one that addresses the issue most directly (the characters even play a modified version of Monopoly called "Privilege" in which white players must forfeit $200 every time they pass go), it is the least successful at illuminating either the causes or the effects of white privilege. What we get instead is a quartet of, yes, straight white men: Ed (James Carpenter) and his three sons, Jake (Seann Gallagher), Drew (Christian Haines) and Matt (Ryan Tasker). They have gathered to spend Christmas at the family home, and spend most of the first half of the play behaving—quite naturally—as brothers (biological or fraternity) often do, roughhousing, playing video games, drinking to excess, and establishing a pecking order of juvenile power. "Shut up." "No, you shut up."

Matt, we will learn, was the most promising of the three boys, a brilliant young man who graduated from Harvard, but somehow got lost in the years after college and is now living at home with dad, working a temp job and trying to keep up with his student loan debt. Jake, on the other hand, is a powerful banker and Drew a successful novelist with a new book about to be published.

Although playwright Young Jean Lee has created characters who feel genuine and relatable, the action fails to adequately illuminate the causes (or costs) of white privilege, focusing instead on the power dynamic within the family. The core question of whether Matt is "trying to make the world a better place by sabotaging himself" is never satisfactorily answered, and instead lies there in a pool of vague, white liberal guilt.

The production is nearly saved by excellent performances from all six actors (J Jha and Arianna Evans play Person in Charge 1 and Person in Charge 2, setting up the action and observing it from just outside the bounds of the stage), and Luciana Stecconi's set is gorgeous—a wonderful representation of a middle American living room, set against a French's Mustard yellow backdrop that encloses the space on three sides. There are some amusing moments—including a version of the title song from Oklahoma! that young Matt adapted into Okkklahoma! as a protest when his high school production of the show cast only white actors—but ultimately these moments fail to jell into a story worthy of our attention.

Straight White Men, through July 8, 2018, at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley CA. Performances are Tuesdays-Sundays at 7:30pm, with matinees Saturday June 23 and July 7 and Sunday June 24 and July 1 and 8 at 2:00pm. There will also be a Thursday "perspectives" matinee at 1:00pm on June 28. Tickets range from $22-$60, and are available at marintheatre.org, or by calling the box office at 415-388-5208.


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