Written and Directed by Young Jean Lee
Ensemble cast featuring Austin Pendleton
The Public Theater

Reviewed by David Spencer

I’m not quite sure what to make of Straight White Men. Written and directed by Young Jean Lee it’s a play in the sense that it’s scripted and acted, but it doesn’t have a great deal discernible in the way of form or structure. It takes place in what seems an upper-middle-class house in the Midwest where three grown sons (Gary Wilmes, Pete Simpson and James Stanley) spend Christmas Day and the day after with their widowed father (Austin Pendleton). Mostly they engage in hijinks with each other, some benign, some a little more aggressive. (Though the title and characters might seem to indicate an “exposé” of a sort, nothing could be further from the truth. These fellows are all socially self-aware and the first to call themselves out on their own societal foibles, including manifestations of casual just-among-whites racism that they know to be wrong. This jocular, jockish interplay goes on for the better part of the action; and then right at the end, there’s the suggestion of an underlying story. And just as that the real story (arguably) starts, the play ends.

            The play has the tone of something that was improvised around a structure and then scripted. And to me it played out like a cross between a New Millennium spin on the first, pre-1900 experiments with naturalism, and an updated John Cassavetes film, likewise improvised around a situation, like Husbands.

            The acting is first tier, there’s appropriately macho commitment; and insofar as can be determined with this sort of thing, the direction is fine too. But I’m hard-pressed to tell you what the play is actually doing for a living. However…if aimless yet contained, pointless but polished, mostly-comic romping, leading toward a sudden, more sober conclusion, delivered by guys who know how to get their laughs, is enough to entertain…you may find yourself entertained enough.

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