It is not often, but there are times, we see a play with excellent actors doing all they can to entertain an audience, and yet, the material they have been given to work with is just not good. I may take that a step further as I discuss the Chicago Premiere of “Straight White Men” written by Young Jean Lee, who also directed this production. The up-front promo sheets explained that this would be a story about a widower, Ed (played to perfection by Alan Wilder) and his three adult sons, who are “home for Christmas” (although it appears as if they are Jewish), and the life-changing discoveries that they will make!
I am the middle son of three boys, so I know what it is like ot have two brothers and recall some of the foolishness that we were involved in as kids. In this “almost” sit-com, the three boys who are now men are gathered with their dad at his request. The boys are Drew (Ryan Hallahan), Jake (Madison Dirks) and Matt ( Brian Slaten). They do all the things that a family might do on a holiday they share. Being Jewish, and one of our traditions, they order Chinese food, they play aboard game (sort of like monopoly) and the brothers play pranks on each other.
Dad, asks them to wear flannel PJ’s he has purchased for them, so they can get in front of the TV and watch a movie (which sounds like another tradition this family had. They even have a Christmas tree in the house and a santa suit that Jake puts on. Supposedly Ms Lee is going to tell us what “Straight White Men” might do in a situation like this, but never does. Instead she does a sit-com where the boys tease each other, bring up some old and bad memories and there is a major discussion about a problem many young people are faced with today, College Loan debt!
The title is very misleading and to start the festivities, we are greeted by two very funny gender nonconforming performers. as we enter the upstairs theater at Steppenwolf.Will Wilhelm is hysterical as he mingles with the audience members, bringing smiles to many of their faces. Elliot Jenetopulos is the other, and during the pre-show walked around handing out ear plugs as the music in the theater was VERY LOUD . The people sitting in my area were taken aback by the two guys and the music. They made no sense and had nothing to do with the play. There is no mention of anyone being sexually confused or experimenting, so why start the day off with these boys. They are funny and are used to set the stage (they make the announcements) and assist actors into positions for scenes, but they are not important to this play.
As I said, the actors were all fine. Wilder is the perfect “nerdy” dad. Brian Slaten is powerful as the brother who has moved back in with dad to help him pay off his student loans and is quite the athlete. His gymnastic feats are truly worthwhile to watch. It is evidently Lee’s intent to look deep into the human identity and in the press notes she states” If I woke up tomorrow as a straight white man, what would I do?” This question can be looked at several ways, but need;less to say, she will never wake up as a straight white male, so it is a non-point.
While I found the acting well done, since the story was incomplete, I cannot recommend that you see it. However, if you are an adventurous soul, who would like to watch these actors do their thing on a wonderful set (David Evans Morris), nice costuming (Enver Chakartash), and some amazing music and re-mixes (Chris Giarmo), as well as some choreography by Faye Driscoll that was more like “fight direction”, you will find that there are some nice (and comic) moments in this 90 minute production.
“Straight White Men” will continue at Steppenwolf Upstairs Theater, located at 1650 N. Halsted through March 19th with performances as follows:
Wednesdays 7:30 p.m. starting March 1 also 2 p.m.
Thursdays 7:30 p.m.
Fridays 7:30 p.m.
Saturdays 3 and 7:30 p.m.
Sundays 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
EXCEPT: 3/5 only 3 p.m. 3/12 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. and on 3/19 ONLY 3 p.m.
Open captioning, audio description, touch tour and American sign language performances are available- check www.steppenwolf.org/access
Tickets range in price from $20-$89 and are available at the box office, by calling 312-335-1650 or online at www.steppenwolf.org
There aer student discounts as well as RUSH at special pricing. To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Straight White Men”.