Writer: Young Jean Lee
Director: Steven Kunis
Straight White Men is finally celebrating it’s UK premiere at the Southwark Playhouse this week, after significant postponement from last summer. Young Jean Lee’s hilarious examination of a father and his sons spending Christmas together has certainly been worth the wait and its new November placement may even further its success as audiences gear up for the festive period.
Straight White Men does, in some ways, deliver what it says on the tin; a typical three-act structure following four characters of that exact demographic. Yet, Lee’s surreal script subverts this concept through the ‘People in Charge’: Kim Tatum and Kamari Romeo. As a fantastically queer pair they act as Emcees-in-kind, welcoming the audience to the evening’s performance and reappearing throughout transitions. Presenting the story of the straight white men in this way interestingly shifts the evening’s events into something of a case study, as we are invited to observe the ‘species’.
Tatum and Romeo do an ultimately fine job of entertaining the audience but seem a bit shaky on their feet. Faced with an audience who are unsure of how much to participate, the pair need to take control and be more comfortable in commanding the room. They clearly have the capability as the moments where Tatum, a natural entertainer, diverts from the script to volley with the audience are riotously funny.
The main body of the play, following the brothers and their father, is a delight to observe. With a title like Straight White Me‘, audiences might expect a heavy drama critiquing the pitfalls of masculinity, or an exaggerated parody of the incompetence of the demographic. For the most part, the play is really fun and endearing, spotlighting the playful, childlike banter the men share and the absolute comfort they have around one another.
Set in an optimistically ‘aware’ household where the three sons were raised playing board games like ‘Privilege’ and therefore who have a good understanding of social issues and the roles they play in society, xenophobia is pleasantly not the star of this show. Yet judgemental attitudes increasingly inform the plot as eldest brother Matt (Charlie Condou), becomes the target of questioning. For a straight white man who has been given every opportunity for success, why aren’t you taking it?
The actors share an impressive chemistry, bouncing off each other with the dexterity of genuine siblings with years of experience. Their physical comedy is a work of art and although each brother is distinct; from vulnerable Matt, to big-talking banker Jake (Alex Mugnaioni), and overbearing academic Drew (Cary Crankson), it is their united bickering which forms the heart of the show. Meanwhile, as the patriarch, Simon Rouse does a brilliant job of managing the chaos with well-balanced love and authority.
Straight White Men is an intelligent script at its core and is worth seeing just for the creative stupidity of the cast who traverse the stage with the energy of a school playground. This laugh-out-loud production about straight white men would be sure to put a smile on anyone’s face.
Runs until 4 December 2021