Sunday, 15 May 2016

Straight White Men, May 12, 2016 ***1/2

By Young Jean Lee, by Melbourne Theatre Company 
Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on May 12
Stars: ***1/2
 Review also online at Herald Sun Arts on Fri May 13, 2016. KH

Straight White Men is less of a scathing satire about the white man’s privileged position in the modern world and more of a family drama about a widowed father and his three ageing sons.

It is a 21st century My Three Sons (a 1960s US sit-com) set during Christmas when Ed (John Gaden) has all three of his adult, unmarried sons (Gareth Reeves, Luke Ryan, Hamish Michael) staying with him to celebrate the holidays for a few days.

Ed’s sons may be near 40 but they revert to familiar childhood interactions as they wrestle and tease, play video games, dress in their traditional, Christmas pyjamas, revisit their mother’s politically correct board game, Privilege, get drunk and dance like nobody is watching.

However, it quickly becomes clear that all is not well in the land of these privileged white men when eldest son, Matt (Reeves), inexplicably starts sobbing during their Chinese take-away dinner.

When youngest brother, Drew (Michael), a university teacher and successful novelist experienced in therapy, tries to find the cause of Matt’s despair, Jake (Ryan), the swaggering banker, shuts him down while the bemused Ed says that Matt, who now lives with Dad after dumping his doctoral studies at Harvard, is fine.

Directed by Sarah Giles, the four men are compelling, funny and maddening as they stumble around their family relationships, scrambling to understand each other and the changing world outside the walls of their family home.

Gaden is a still pool of warmth and love as Ed who is mystified by Matt’s unexpected despondency and Reeves gives Matt a quiet dignity as he struggles with his bewilderment about finding his place in the world while he works in various, unchallenging jobs for non-profit organisations.

Michael balances Drew’s self-absorption with genuine concern for his big brother who was such a revolutionary and intellectual prodigy while Ryan captures the audacious confidence of Jake, the thriving corporate banker who capitalises on his white male privilege while admiring what he believes are Matt’s unshakeable liberal principles.

Korean-American playwright, Young Jean Lee, is clearly not a straight white male but she used improvisational workshops with male actors to develop this, her first naturalistic script.

The play staggers after Matt’s breakdown and does not regain its balance because, although we cannot expect Young’s script to resolve all of Matt’s issues in 90 minutes, Ed’s last, harsh act seems out of character and the ending is unsatisfying.

Giles’ introduces Candy Bowers who acts as MC rapmeister/stagehand and delivers a rap ‘welcome to country’ but, although Young’s script directions require uncomfortably loud hip-hop music before the play starts, Bowers’ role is extraneous and often distracting.

Straight White Men is an engaging, acerbic and playful production but, ultimately, it is the talented cast who carry the play.

By Kate Herbert


No comments:

Post a Comment