‘Straight White Men’: APT comedy considers family, privilege, success

‘Straight White Men’: APT comedy considers family, privilege, success
BECCA MARTIN-BROWN
bmartin@nwadg.com

Begin, if you will, with this premise: Three adult sons are spending Christmas with their widowed father. They love him, they love each other, and they want nothing more than to have a happy holiday, from the festive pajamas to the candy canes in their stockings to Chinese carryout for dinner. There’s laughter and reminiscing, an old favorite — but slightly twisted — board game, the great family debate over what movie to rent, bad dancing and mock brother-on-brother brutality. They are, after all, straight white men.

“It was easy to direct these guys to be a family,” says Brenda Nemec, who is helming the Arkansas Public Theatre production of “Straight White Men,” a Broadway hit by an Asian-American woman, Young Jean Lee. “It has been interesting at times being the only straight white female in the group! I grew up in a family of sisters and only one brother, so the brothers teasing and rough housing is a bit foreign to me, but just like in my family, you can feel the genuine love they have for each other.

“Watching this cast become a family has been one of my favorite parts of the rehearsal process.”

“Watching Matt, Jake and Drew fight, play around, fight again, and generally give each other a hard time is pretty hilarious,” says Mitchell Sloan, who plays middle-brother Jake, “who is the most outspoken of the three and looks up to his older brother Matt.”

“He loves Christmas and will do whatever it takes to keep the festivities going, even if that means ignoring the family drama bubbling beneath the surface,” Sloan says.

Travis Mitchell, an APT veteran who first appeared in “Moon Over Buffalo,” portrays Matt, the oldest brother who, in his 40s, has come home to live with dad. He says the moral of the play is simple: “Be kind.” And if playgoers wish to, that’s as deep as they need to delve. But, Mitchell says, “my hope is that this play will help set the table for having some harder, although profoundly more impactful, conversations with regards to race, sexuality, and gender.”

What Lee wanted to do with the play, she said in several pre-Broadway opening interviews, was call attention to the fact that “straight white man” is now an “identity category,” just like gay man, Asian-American woman or Hispanic immigrant. Until now, she said, straight white men just got to be human beings. Now they’re experiencing being labeled and being expected to behave a certain way because of that label — something she called a “really disorienting experience.”

Ed McClure (left) plays a widowed father whose adult sons — played by Cody Robinson, Mitchell Sloan and Travis Mitchell — have all come home for Christmas in “Straight White Men,” opening June 18 at Arkansas Public Theatre in Rogers. (Courtesy Photo/Chad Wigington)

Ed, the father in “Straight White Men,” has raised his boys to be “progressive, inclusive, productive, generous and mindful that they not take advantage of their privilege as ‘straight white men,” says APT artistic director Ed McClure, who is playing the role. “Regardless, everyone has burdens and problems — and sometimes privilege doesn’t help.”

In this case, Matt, the oldest son who now lives at home, has failed to meet the societal expectations for a successful straight white man in his 40s — and ultimately, that is the pivot point of the play. One brother thinks he is depressed. One thinks he has eschewed society to “make room for others who have traditionally been excluded from positions of authority.” And Matt can’t begin to explain what even he doesn’t understand.

“The signal surprise of ‘Straight White Men’ is that the play is not a full-frontal assault on the beings of the title,” wrote the New York Times. “Ms. Lee’s fascinating play goes far beyond cheap satire, ultimately becoming a compassionate and stimulating exploration of one man’s existential crisis.”

“I think the show will leave folks with maybe more questions than answers, but also, the script leaves the audience to examine these ‘straight white men’ in maybe a different light,” says McClure.

“The show isn’t really about male versus female, white versus black, rich versus poor,” concludes Nemec. “It is about being aware of who we are, where we fit and how do we do all of this without being mean.”

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FAQ

‘Straight White Men’

WHEN — 8 p.m. June 18-19 and again June 24-26; 2 p.m. June 27

WHERE — Arkansas Public Theatre at the Victory in Rogers

COST — Tickets start at $10

INFO — 631-8988 or arkansaspublictheatre.org

Categories: Theater