Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

Straight White MenFlorida Studio Theatre
William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's reviews of An Afternoon of Operetta and Seraph Brass Quintet


Matt Koenig, Justin Adams, Jess Prichard,
and Phillip Clark

Photo by Matthew Holler
Florida Studio Theatre continues its Winter Mainstage series with Young Jean Lee's Straight White Men at the Keating Theatre. This play began life at The Public Theatre in New York in 2014. A revised version was staged at Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago, 2017, and a Broadway debut took place in July 2018. All along the way the play drew mixed reactions from critics.

A family of three brothers reunite to keep their widowed father company on a Christmas Eve. While the play examines family relationships, a recurring theme is straight male privilege, a subject their deceased mother introduced them to years earlier. The play is in three scenes with the first two being rather flaccid dramatically; the third exhibits more spine as two of the brothers confront the oldest about his lack of personal drive and success. The ending comes very suddenly, without honestly arriving.

Even after thinking about it for a period of time, I am not sure if I liked this play or not. I don't think it would have provoked a lively discussion if I had attended with a companion and I don't think the issues addressed herein strongly engage me. As a gay man, I do not think I have been denied any more opportunities than anyone's random life has.

Anything lacking in this production of Straight White Men does not come from the acting, as every member of the cast is individually strong, and the ensemble chemistry is outstanding. Phillip Clark as father Ed portrays just the right amount of weariness. Life has taken its toll, and being the emotional head of the household is a role he would prefer passing on to one of his sons. Jess Prichard as eldest son Matt, the one without inner drive, sort of walks through family interactions in the early scenes, true to Ms. Lee's writing. In the final scene he pulls himself together, but within the story his character is emotionally at sea. Justin Adams gives a spirited performance as middle son Jake, and in tandem with Matt Koenig as youngest brother Drew, well I could believe them as brothers, sharing a lifetime of history.

Sandra Caldwell as Person in Charge #1 and JP Moraga as Person in Charge #2 act as hosts at the top of the play and wander through scene changes. Young Jean Lee informs us that both are sexually non-conforming. I am not clear that they impact the story all that much.

Direction by Kate Alexander is superb, and the ensemble work speaks to this. The scenic design by Sean Fanning is detailed and perfect for this play, set in the home of a successful retired man. Costumes by Susan Angermann are also always dramatically appropriate. A scene in which Dad hands out Christmas pajamas is totally believable, that the pajamas were bought at the same store by the same person, exactly alike except for color schemes. Lighting design by Thom Beaulieu and sound design by Thomas Korp add to the excellence of the overall production.

Straight White Men is going to prove controversial regarding its themes. At the performance I attended, I saw one couple walk out after scene one and another after scene two, both with clear intent to get the heck out of Florida Studio Theatre and this production. I have no problem with theater challenging me, but I didn't find the themes a good match to my world view.

Straight White Men, through March 1, 2019, at Florida Studio Theatre, Keating Theater, 1241 N. Palm Avenue, Sarasota FL. For tickets and performance information, please call the box office at 941-366-9000 or visit floridastudiotheatre.org.

Cast (in alphabetical order):
Jake: Justin Adams*
Person in Charge #1: Sandra Caldwell*
Ed: Phillip Clark*
Drew: Matt Koenig*
Person in Charge #2: JP Moraga*
Matt: Jess Prichard*
*=Member of Actors Equity Association


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