Presented by State Theatre Company
Reviewed 5 July 2016
This review is going to use the words “straight”, “white” and “men” quite a lot, not just because that’s the name of the incredible play by Young Jean Lee, Straight White Men, but also because acknowledging and confronting the privilege and assumptions these traits bring about is a hugely important step in understanding and moving forward. There’s no good to be done tip-toeing around or rebelliously denying the topic of straight, white maleness, and that’s why Straight White Men succeeds as a piece. It reveals, criticises, challenges and opens discussion.
Three straight, white (American) brothers and their father (Roger Newcombe) come together at Christmas to celebrate in the “proper” straight, white way: by drinking beer, eating Chinese take-out and playing video games. Drew (Lucas Stibbard) and Jake (Chris Pitman) even get out their mother’s old hand-made board game, a version of Monopoly called “Privilege”. The relative peace and innocent cheeriness of the night is shattered when Matt (Hugh Parker) inexplicably burst into tears. The rest of the play sees the four men dancing, fighting and squaring up against each other in their own macho ways, struggling to get past the testosterone veil and to the heart of Matt’s issue.
The four men begin as a sort of single being; a blobby, American, clichéd beast of straight, white maleness… until things start to unravel. The characters reveal themselves, at an even pace, to be unique personalities. Yet they are also still masculine archetypes, avatars for the various strengths and weaknesses of straight, white men. Because the problems of privilege are personified through them, it is easy for the audience to see, appreciate and understand them. Of course, this realisation comes at an emotional price: it’s a realisation of how far we’ve come in correcting inequality and educating the world, but also how much further we have to go through sacrifice, courage and empathy.
Behind the straight, white maleness of Straight White Men is a powerhouse team of multicultural women, including Director Nescha Jelk, Set and Costume Designer Victoria Lamb, and Composer Busty Beatz. The significant impact of all crew is evident through the performance and serves to make the play incredibly naturalistic, subtle and sharp. Jean Lee’s original script is a masterful work of undercurrents and explosions. And let’s not forget Alexis West, the Aboriginal Assistant Director and “Stage Manager”, who comes on stage to direct the male characters in full view. Her charismatic appearance highlights the female-constructed nature of the play without being too ham-fisted. Under the creators, the male characters look quite childish.
Not only is Straight White Men profound, sharp and insightful, it is also beautiful. The set is incredibly realistic, almost as if sliced right out of a middle-class American household. It feels warm and inviting, with enough space to allow for complicated exits, entrances and choreographed fight/dance scenes. To add to it all, there is a great electronic, bass-filled soundtrack (that is played just a little too loud at points).
Straight White Men is the play we all need to see, ESPECIALLY if you match the character description.
Reviewed by James Rudd
Photo Credit: Kate Pardey
Venue: Space Theatre – Adelaide Festival Centre, King William St
Season: 01 – 23 July
Duration: 1 hour and 30 minutes
Bookings: Through BASS