Arts & Culture

‘Straight White Men’ challenges expectations

By Hannah Scott, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Published 11:09 PST, Mon January 27, 2020

Last Updated: 4:01 PST, Wed February 12, 2020

When four straight white men reunite over the holidays to compare lives, their attitudes about privilege, potential and class emerge.

In Young Jean Lee’s Straight White Men, this is the setting for family patriarch Ed and his three sons.

The play premiered on Broadway in 2018, the first production by a female Asian-American playwright. 

Co-director Chelsea Haberlin praises Lee’s skills as a playwright. 

“I was excited by the opportunity to delve into an examination of straight, white, male identity and thought the framing device of having the play told through the lens of two gender non-binary people of colour was awesome,” says Haberlin.

The play examines and challenges traditional attitudes around masculinity, as well as ethnicity, sexuality, and gender as a whole. However, it doesn’t frame things in a black and white way. 

“One of the things I find interesting is the interrogation of the societal structures that lead to the current definition and performance of masculinity,” says Haberlin. “The play is nuanced and invites conversation.”

While the play’s view on masculinity has been interesting, Haberlin acknowledges the challenge. 

“Nuance is hard to direct,” she explains. “We want to be sure it’s clear and that takes smart, subtle direction and performances.”

Haberlin says the play has many appealing qualities. 

“It will appeal to people who are interested in talking about identity politics. It will appeal to people looking for a really strong, relatable family story. It will appeal to people who want to laugh.”

As for the ‘straight white men’ of the title? They’re not exempt from the interrogation on traditional masculinity.

“This play puts straight white men under the microscope and asserts that they are a subcategory, not the assumed default human with everyone else falling to the margins.”

Although the rehearsal process has only just begun, Haberlin praises her cast. 

“I’m really proud of the team of artists we’ve assembled,” she says. “They are brilliant artists from diverse backgrounds and lived experiences and I’ve been enjoying our conversations.” 

Some of those conversations will surely play out on stage in front of audiences’ eager eyes.

Straight White Men plays at Gateway Theatre from Feb. 6 to Feb. 15. A ‘Talk Forward’ discussion follows every performance so audience members can stay and reflect with guest speakers. These talks focus on identities explored in the play: straightness, whiteness, and maleness. 

For tickets, call 604-270-1812 or visit tickets.gatewaytheatre.com.

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