“Straight White Men”
Westport County Playhouse
By Tom Holehan
Connecticut Critics Circle
Playwright Young Jean Lee holds the distinction of being the first female Asian writer to land a play on Broadway. That play is “Straight White Men” and the contemporary comic drama is currently onstage at the Westport Country Playhouse. “Straight White Men” at Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court in Westport, continues through June 5.
Widower Ed (Richard Kline) is hosting his three sons for the Christmas holiday, writer Drew (Nick Westrate), banker Jake (Billy Army) and lost soul Matt (Denver Milord), who is also the oldest brother, a Harvard grad and the focus of conflict and drama in the play.
When reunited, the brother’s fall into old habits, horsing around and wrestling loudly as dad watches patiently. Their mother was the brains of this group, seemingly, instilling values about what they owe society being privileged white men. She even remakes a game of Monopoly into one called Privilege that is played briefly by Drew and Jake early in the play. The theme of privilege is a prime one here, which asks questions of the men that they are not always prepared to answer. Ultimately, the play seems to be leading to a big reveal regarding Matt’s life, but after several well-directed and acted confrontational scenes, we are just left thinking…”Huh!”
All the acting in “Straight White Men” is solid and the four men mesh beautifully as family members, no one stealing focus though, given his role, Mr. Milord is heartbreaking by the finale. Mark Lamos’ customary polished direction is also strongly in evidence here. Two other characters, listed as “Person in Charge”, work the crowd before the play has even begun and they are dynamic.
Gay Ashton Muñiz and Non-binary Japanese actor Akiko Akita announce defiantly pre-curtain that they are NOT straight white men and serve as guides throughout. Once introduced, however, it seems odd to have them in a play that is otherwise fairly realistic. Moreover, they are given precious little to do for the scene changes except to position the actors for reasons the still elude me. Apparently, in early versions of the script, these characters were not included. It would be interesting to know exactly why the playwright felt it important to add them.
Scenic Designer Kristen Robinson has a field day creating the man cave setting (Ed calls it a “family room) complete with bookcases, athletic trophies, a bar, leather couch and, of course, the requisite La–Z-Boy recliner. It is prefect. Though I cannot imagine straight men dancing as enthusiastically (or as accomplished) as these guys are called upon to do, Alison Solomon’s choreography is a home-run.
There are some roughhouse laughs and all-too-familiar brotherly recollections to enjoy in “Straight White Men”, but despite all the obvious talent to appreciate, the play (a brisk 90 minutes without intermission) still seems to promise much more than it actually delivers.
“Straight White Men” continues through June 5th. Masks and proof of vaccination are required. For further information, call the box office at: 203.227.4177 or visit: www.westportplayhosue.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and the Stratford Crier and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.