Thursday, June 21, 2018

Family reunion goes awry in 'Straight White Men'

Brothers Matt (Ryan Tasker, left), Jake (Seann Gallagher) and Drew (Christian Haines) celebrate Christmas Eve.

According to playwright Young Jean Lee, if you were born white and male, you already have an advantage over other people. If you’re straight, you have yet another advantage.

She explores these advantages in “Straight White Men,” presented by Marin Theatre Company.

The men of the title are a widower and his three adult sons who celebrate Christmas in the family home.

Matt (Ryan Tasker), the oldest son, already lives there with their father, Ed (James Carpenter). Despite an impressive resume, Matt holds only temp jobs at humanitarian organizations. He has never been married and has no girlfriend.

Drew (Christian Haines), the youngest, is a teacher and novelist. He has a girlfriend.
In the middle is Jake (Seann Gallagher), a banker who’s divorced from his black wife. They have two children.

At first, the get-together is marked by jokes and horseplay. Christmas Eve dinner is Chinese takeout eaten at the coffee table in the living room.

That’s when things go awry as Matt begins to cry. Over most of the rest of the play, his brothers and father try to figure out what’s wrong.

Because therapy helped him, Drew says Matt should see a therapist. Jake says Matt needs to present himself more positively to get a better job. 

Ed, the father (James Carpenter, left), asks Matt (Ryan Tasker) about student debt.
Ed says Matt is burdened by student loan debt.

They all seem to imply that being straight white men obligates them to meet certain standards.

As for Matt, he doesn’t agree with them, but he can’t be more specific about his goals other than wanting to be useful. He feels he’s doing that with his job and the help he gives Ed around the house. In the end, it’s not clear what he’ll do.

As directed by Morgan Gould, the cast is terrific with each man creating a believable character.

Two other characters, Person in Charge 1 (J Jha) and Person in Charge 2 (Arianna Evans), aren’t so believable. Except for a prologue by Jha, they’re essentially stage hands observing most of the action.

Both dance to the deafening rap music (sound by Sara Huddleston) that assails the audience before the show.

The inviting set is by Luciana Stecconi, lighting by Heather Basarab and costumes by Fumiko Bielefeldt.
Despite the inconclusive ending, “Straight White Mem” is enjoyable and thought-

It runs about 90 minutes without intermission and will continue through July 8 at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley.

For tickets and information, call (415) 388-5208 or visit

Photos by Kevin Berne