Straight White Men, the 2014 comedy drama by Young Jean Lee, a female playwright of color, is the next critically acclaimed offering from Salem’s The Verona Studio. It follows in the footsteps of other works presented by Verona in its commitment to putting Salem “on the map” as a prime theater destination in Oregon.
Straight White Men is a compelling, sometimes funny and always engaging family story of three brothers and their widowed father trying to celebrate Christmas. An important work that examines a complex issue, the play has previously been presented at important regional theaters such as the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago, the Public Theater in New York City and The Washington Ensemble Theater in Seattle.
It is “a hugely funny and enjoyable — and poignant — family story,” says Verona co-founder Randall Tosh. “The characters are rich and resonate with us, while making us question uncomfortable assumptions of how the world is.”
The story begins when Ed’s three adult sons assemble at the family home somewhere in the Midwest for a holiday celebration. Ed is widowed and none of his sons brings a wife or girlfriend. Cheerful trash talking, roughhousing and pranks ensue; takeout ‘Chinese’ is eaten straight from the box. But the men gradually come to confront a problem that even being a happy family can’t solve: When identity matters, and privilege is problematic, what is the value of being a straight white man?
“In selecting Straight White Men the theatre didn’t shy away from provocative subject matter.”
Verona’s cast features Ty Hendrix, Mathieu Voisine, Tavis Evans and Tom Hewitt as the engaging family members. Salem newcomer Patricia Wylie, who brings over twenty years of professional theater directing experience from Los Angeles, directs the play.
Playwright Young Jean Lee has said that until recently “straight, white and male” wasn’t really considered an “identity,” unlike say, being an Asian-American woman. That has now changed, with straight, white, and male becoming another group assumed to have an identifiable set of characteristics.
“The perspective brought to the play by a woman of color is important,” says Tosh, “because her point is that what the straight, white, male characters are experiencing is exactly the kind of things she has experienced by being considered “an Asian-American woman,” and that this is new and uncomfortable for them.”
In his review of the play’s 2014 premier at New York’s Public Theater, Christopher Isherwood wrote that Straight White Men “goes far beyond cheap satire, ultimately becoming a compassionate and stimulating exploration of one man’s existential crisis.”
One of The Verona Studio’s goals has long been to bring critically acclaimed contemporary plays to Salem, Tosh notes. In selecting Straight White Men the theatre didn’t shy away from provocative subject matter, “but the important thing is that the play is ‘a good story well told.’ Young Jean Lee is an important younger playwright, and Straight White Men is an important play.”
The Verona Studio is the black box destination in downtown Salem’s Reed Opera House, close to restaurants and eateries for a complete evening on the town.
Straight White Men
By Young Jean Lee
Directed by Patricia Wylie
The Verona Studio
The Reed Opera House, Suite 215
189 Liberty St. NE, Salem
May 3 – May 19, with evening and matinee performances
or call (805) 657-7538