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Straight White Men

Young Jean Lee's entertaining exploration of privilege makes Canadian debut at Harbourfront Centre

Presented by Harbourfront Centre's World Stage
Written by and directed by Young Jean Lee

Photo credit: Brian Medina.

Brooklyn-based playwright Young Jean Lee’s Straight White Men is a hilarious and touching portrait of a family with a sobering denouement. The traditional structure of the play represents a departure for Lee, who is highly acclaimed for her adventurous experimental style. In fact, prior to the show, a member of her theatre company jokingly warned the audience that the characters would not be acknowledging us; that they would exist only within the world of the play. (Unless our phones rang. In that case, we were told they would “attack” us. Fair.)

Straight White Men takes place over the Christmas holiday when Jake, a divorced banker (Patch Darragh) and Drew (Frank Boyd), a therapized teacher, head home to visit their widowed father Ed (Richard Riehle), a retired engineer. Their eldest brother Matt (Scott Shepherd) has been living with their father for some time, ostensibly to keep him company and attempt to repay the debt he accrued over the course of an Ivy League doctoral degree. It's a joy to watch, as Lee has expertly captured the subtle particularities of male bonding to endearing and hilarious effect. The uniformly talented and charismatic cast has such amazing chemistry that you really feel like a fly on the wall in their utilitarian middle American living room. I felt like I knew these guys.

Lee brilliantly frustrates the expectations of caricature set up by the play’s title by delivering a compassionate portrayal of familial affection that is equally sympathetic and very funny. Of course there is an implicit criticism of white male privilege, but Lee has notably chosen to highlight the detrimental effect that the performance of dominant masculinity can have on the very men who are pressured to perform. The source of much of the play’s humourthat affection could be construed as weakness and therefore cannot be shown between the brothers unless it’s swiftly followed by a punch or an outrageous insultis what also allows one of them to trudge miserably through life.

Every time feelings threaten to burst on the scene, the brothers start acting crazy. And it’s mostly hilarious. Throughout the play, brothers are continually punched; brothers are strangled; brothers have testicle sweat rubbed in their facesall in the good-natured, affectionate way that the brotherless among us will never quite understand. However, as the play progresses, it becomes clear that the underside of these seemingly harmless antics is that true feelings are always being covered up. And perhaps that yet another cost of straight white male privilege is straight white men suffering in silent isolation.

Young Jean Lee's Straight White Men runs until June 6, 2015 at the Fleck Dance Theatre. Visit for more information and to buy tickets.

Show Dates: 
Wed, 2015-06-03 - Sat, 2015-06-06
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