A Holiday Hits Home

by Jenna Tonsor

They say you can never go home again. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

Straight White Men by Young Jean Lee follows three adult brothers, Drew, Jake, and Matt, who reunite in their childhood home to celebrate the Christmas holiday with their father, Ed, who loves his boys as much as he loves forcing them to wear matching Christmas pajamas. Under the influence of eggnog and holiday mirth, the men play games, sing songs (with choreography included), and recount funny memories of adolescent angst.

But what starts as a joyous occasion quickly turns melancholy.

Drew is over his head teaching a four-hour class, Jake is going through a divorce, and Matt is drowning in student loan debt. Not to mention they are all still coping with the loss of their mother or the existential crisis that comes with being a straight white man in today’s world.

“When I first encountered the play, I was expecting it to be an attack on straight white men,” shared FST’s Producing Artistic Director, Richard Hopkins. “I went into the theatre completely ‘on guard’ and preparing to dislike it. But when I left, I thought, ‘We have to do this play.’”

In many ways, renowned playwright Young Jean Lee takes the classic father-son drama and flips it on its head. The play is modeled to look familiar, but feel brand new. Structurally, Straight White Men is recognizable and comfortable, and yet Lee’s commentary is fresh and original.

What gives the play its edge is how these otherwise likable characters behave while no one is looking. Their appearances and surroundings seem completely normal, but what’s going on internally and how they behave is far from it.

Lee depicts these grown men as if they are “boys being boys.” There’s roughhousing, profanity, and name-calling—as if coming home for Christmas has caused all three brothers to revert back to their immature, adolescent selves. Or perhaps the men are behaving this way to escape their problems. Either way, seeing put-together, adult men behave like children without a babysitter is alarming, comical, and intriguing. “But be aware,” shared Hopkins. “It is not what our audiences would expect. And some may be offended by the language.”

There’s a lot to take in in Straight White Men, from loud pre-show hip-hop music designed to shake audiences out of their status quo, to comedic moments, to genuine human pain and compassion.

“The men in the play are depicted in an honestly loving and warm way,” continued Hopkins. “What the playwright, Young Jean Lee, does is depict them in a realistic context. She also frames the play in a way that is refreshing and enlightening—it gives you a fresh view into the behavior and psyche of straight white men.”

The first play written by an Asian-American playwright to ever open on Broadway, Straight White Men is a comedic, unapologetic look at the classic father-son drama. FST is proud to present the Regional Premiere of this challenging new play direct from its successful Broadway run.

Straight White Men is now playing in FST’s Keating Theatre. Get tickets by calling (941) 366-9000 or visiting www.floridastudiotheatre.org

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