×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Broadway Review: ‘Straight White Men’ With Armie Hammer, Josh Charles

Just what three grown brothers do not want for Christmas – a major existential crisis.

With:
Kate Bornstein, Josh Charles, Ty Defoe, Armie Hammer, Stephen Payne, Paul Schneider.

In “Straight White Men,” Young Jean Lee’s cutting but deeply humane satire about straight white male privilege and pain, Armie Hammer, Josh Charles and, in an especially heart-wrenching performance, Paul Schneider play three brothers with mid-life issues. In director Anna D. Shapiro’s super-smart production, the bros are first observed as they go through the family Christmas rituals with their widowed father Ed (Stephen Payne), who’s in on all the goofy jokes.

Actually, it takes a while to get to this opening scene. In a head-scratching pre-curtain turn, preceded by a few minutes of assaulting rap music (coming after you, sound designer M.L. Dogg!), two weirdly costumed interlocutors of indeterminate gender, played by Kate Bornstein and Ty Defoe, pointedly let the audience know that they, the so-called Persons in Charge, are the real persons in charge. The men in her play, Young Jean Lee is determined to show us, are her puppets and playthings.

Once released from the feminist talons of the pre-show, we’re in a midwestern home on Christmas Eve. In Todd Rosenthal’s ultra-naturalistic design, that presents itself as a saggy sofa, a baggy easy chair, the bottom half of an undecorated artificial Christmas tree, a beat-up coffee table, and a mantelpiece hung with four Christmas stockings that will soon be filled with plastic-wrapped candy canes.

Ed, the widowed father of this male household, looks on indulgently as his three grown sons, who are all in their 40s, perform their brotherly rituals. That means beloved old routines like fighting over who gets the iron (which earns an “undervalued domestic labor bonus”) in a game of “Privilege,” the family’s tell-it-like-it-is version of Monopoly, and giving an impromptu performance of “Oklahoma!” that features a chorus line of Ku Klux Klansmen and earns kudos for choreographer Faye Driscoll.

The re-written version of the play seems to have extended and pumped up the fun and games from the original version that played downtown at the Public under the playwright’s own direction. But who would begrudge this super cast a few extra laughs? Charles plays an inspired game of “Privilege” and Hammer is especially fetching rubbing his sore nipples after one of these bro-on-bro matches.

The brothers are such cut-ups, it’s worth reminding ourselves that they are grown men, all in their 40s, and each burdened with real-life issues. Drew, the successful brother played with such a sunny disposition by Hammer, may be a teacher and a published author — but where’s the new novel? Charles’s put-together Jake may be a prosperous banker and all — but how does he feel about his recent divorce? As for Schneider’s super-sensitive Matt, the Harvard graduate with the most promising future, how fulfilling is that low-performance job with the non-profit charity, anyway?

In the spirit of the season, no one brings up such touchy subjects until, quite unexpectedly, Matt suddenly breaks down and starts crying for no good reason. The playwright pens such smart and funny bro-banter that the audience is as shocked as the rest of the family. Dad thinks that Matt is worried about his heavy student debts. Drew thinks that Matt is clinically depressed. Jake thinks Matt should just be left alone.

At some point, all this concern centers on whether Matt is unhappy because he’s not living up to his potential. Granted, Uncle Andrew drives a truck, and come to think of it, Dad could have made more of himself than becoming a civil engineer. But Matt was always the shining star among these golden boys, and his breakdown unnerves them all. Was he not really the dedicated do-gooder who volunteered to work in Ghana, cheerfully teaching things he didn’t know to people who didn’t need or want them?

Although the play touches on many issues that haunt smart, well-educated straight white men, the real question is whether it’s honestly okay not to live up to your full potential. In deconstructing the lives of these white men with all their privilege and power, Lee discovers hidden levels of deep discontent — let’s bite the bullet and call it unhappiness — that indicates the kind of existential human pain common to the human condition. To the naked eye, these privileged guys may seem to have it easier, but in their heart of hearts, they feel the same raw pain as the rest of us.

Broadway Review: 'Straight White Men' With Armie Hammer, Josh Charles

Helen Hayes Theater; 581 seats; $149 top. Opened July 23, 2018. Reviewed July 21. Running time: ONE HOUR, 30 MIN.

Production: A Second Stage production of a play in one act by Young Jean Lee.

Creative: Directed by Anna D. Shapiro. Set, Todd Rosenthal; costumes, Suttirat Larlarb; lighting, Donald Holder; sound, M.L. Dogg; dramaturg, Mike Farry; choreographer, Faye Driscoll; fight director, Thomas Schall; production stage manager, Jane Grey.

Cast: Kate Bornstein, Josh Charles, Ty Defoe, Armie Hammer, Stephen Payne, Paul Schneider.

More Legit

  • Williamstown Theater Festival 2016 season

    Marisa Tomei Starring in Broadway Revival of 'The Rose Tattoo'

    Marisa Tomei will star in the Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams’ “The Rose Tattoo.” The Oscar-winning actress will play Serafina, a part previously performed by the likes of Maureen Stapleton and Anna Magnani. It’s also a role that Tomei is familiar with, having starred in a Williamstown Theatre Festival production in 2016. “The Rose Tattoo” [...]

  • White Pearl review

    London Theater Review: 'White Pearl'

    Playwright Anchuli Felicia King dismantles the Asian market in this misfiring satire at London’s Royal Court Theatre. “White Pearl” makes a case that those seeking to make inroads into the Far East, perceiving a new El Dorado, are no better that colonial conquistadors of an earlier age — and entirely unequipped to understand the specifics [...]

  • Signature Theatre Celebrates Millionth Subsidized Ticket

    Signature Theatre Offers $35 Subsidized Tickets, Celebrates Millionth Sold

    Just the other night, a Manhattan cab driver told Signature Theatre executive director Harold Wolpert that he couldn’t afford to take his girlfriend to a show. In response, Wolpert motioned to his theater, saying that they offer $35 subsidized tickets. The driver said he’d try it out. “It was a great moment,” Wolpert said. “We’re [...]

  • SOCRATES The Public Theater

    Tim Blake Nelson Waxes Philosophical on Writing a Play About Socrates

    Despite Tim Blake Nelson’s knack for playing folksy characters in films such as “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” in his soul lurks the heart of a classicist. Nelson, who stars in HBO’s “Watchmen” series this fall, has also penned the play “Socrates,” now running at New York’s Public Theater through June 2. Doug Hughes directs, [...]

  • TodayTix - Brian Fenty

    TodayTix Banks $73 Million to Boost Theater and Arts Ticketing App

    TodayTix, a Broadway-born mobile ticketing start-up, is looking to expand into a bigger global media and transaction enterprise with a capital infusion of $73 million led by private-equity firm Great Hill Partners. The investment brings TodayTix’s total capital raised to over $100 million, according to CEO and co-founder Brian Fenty. Part of the new funding [...]

  • Ethan Hawke, Bobby Cannavale and Griffin

    BAM Gala Marks Leadership Change, Celebrates Brooklyn as 'Cultural Center of New York'

    Wednesday’s annual gala celebrating the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) served as a poignant moment of transition for the New York stalwart of contemporary performance. As long-time artistic director Joe Melillo, who along with Harvey Lichtenstein transformed BAM into a vanguard of progressive art, prepares to pass the torch to new leadership, gathered patrons and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content