Gateway Theatre

Straight White Men by Young Jean Lee

Dates and Venue February 6 - 15, 2020; 8pm nightly (except Sun and Mon); Matinees on Saturday, Feb. 8 & Sunday, Feb. 9 @ 2pm & Tuesday, Feb. 11 @ 1pm | Gateway Theatre, 6500 Gilbert Road, Richmond

Directors Chelsea Haberlin & Fay Nass Choreography Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg
Set Design Shizuka Kai Lighting Design Sophie Tang Costume Design Laura Fukumoto Sound Design Mary Jane Paquette Fight Director Olivier Lunardi Production Manager/Technical Director Mimi Abrahams Stage Manager Susan D Currie

Cast Kim Villagante as Person in Charge 1, Raven John as Person in Charge 2, Peter Anderson as Ed, Daniel Martin as Matt, Carlo Marks as Jake, Sebastien Archibald as Drew

Reviewer John Jane

Korean-American playwright Young Jean Lee’s provocatively titled one act satirical comedy wags a finger (while poking fun) at that once formidable bulwark of social order - straight white males. While the play may “target” a stereotypical middle-class white males, it’s safe to say that “Straight White Men” are not the target audience.

The auditorium’s disco-themed pre-show with needlessly loud music may have discouraged some patrons from taking their seats early. The on-stage action begins with the two cast members who are neither straight, white or men. Performance artists Kim Villagante and Raven John engage the audience in a pre-curtain, free-wheeling stand-up schtick. Villagante and John continue to be omnipresent on stage as Person in Charge 1 and Person in Charge 2 respectively, essentially involved with continuity and observing.

The play deconstructs the lives of three brothers, approaching mid-life and their widowed, retired father. They have come together at Dad’s home on Christmas Eve, where the plan is to order in Christmas dinner from their favourite Chinese restaurant. Ms. Lee covers many issues that plague seemingly entitled, well-educated white men (straight or otherwise). The playwright unearths disaffection and disquiet at a similar level to those less franchised.

Ed, played with appropriate restraint by Peter Anderson, is a benevolent father without being a patriarch. One suspects that the boy’s mother was the real parent. Unfortunately, the play offers little detail of Ed’s deceased wife’s character beyond her having introduced the family to the ‘Privilege’ board game – a socially conscious version of Monopoly.

Daniel Martin turns in a nuanced performance as Matt, the black sheep in a white family. Matt, a graduate of Harvard and still struggling to pay back tuition fees, has rejected success – or what is generally perceived as such. His self-assigned caretaking duties in his father’s home and his gig with a non-profit charity validate his desire to be merely useful. Sebastien Archibald as unmarried teacher Drew and Carlo Marks as divorced banker Jake, competently round out the cast as the brothers who are relatively successful. While they possess machismo, they lack maturity. Though, thanks to Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg’s choreography, they disprove the notion that white guys can’t dance.

Shizuka Kai’s set of Ed’s informal den (or rec room) is placed inside a giant gilt frame; as if to suggest that what we are watching is simply a family portrait. Co-directors Chelsea Haberlin and Fay Nass’s smart production make the show entertaining as well as thought provoking.

Following the play’s conclusion, the cast are joined on stage by guest speaker David Hatfield and facilitator Camyar Chai for a Talk Forward session to discuss the play’s message and overall impact on the audience. This format will be featured throughout the production’s run.

While Young Jean Lee’s pièce de théâtre is called Straight White Men, the production itself is gloriously culturally diverse. It’s a tribute to professional theatre and the City of Richmond.

© 2020 John Jane