17 June 2015

Straight White Men

I suppose it took me three years to discover Hebbel am Ufer, which is a theatre and international performance center here in Berlin. For the last couple of years I sort of lamented that there was only one English theatre in town, but now I have discovered other venues offering performances in English (as well as performances in German with English surtitles). So recently, we were here to watch the played entitled Straight White Men by Young Jean Lee, which is a play about the privileges that straight and white men enjoy.

There are four straight white men in this story. An aging father and his three middle-aged men. The play is set during Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, where all sons come back to the family home to celebrate. Drew is an author who is also a tenured professor teaching literature in a university; Jake is a successful banker, yet divorced recently; Matt is the third son, who has finished school yet has a few loans, and is living with his father; and Ed is the father of the three sons.

During the course of the night, the play addresses issues of straight white male privilege. See, Matt is a character that was written by the playwright as an experiment: he is a straight white male character that did all the things other people said they wished straight white men wouldn't do. Matt acknowledged white male privilege, he shut up and listened, he didn't take up too much room, he didn't think he knew everything, and he put himself in other people's shoes. The weird thing is that everybody hated this character. And yes, even as I was watching this play, my main impression was that this was a very complex play and is suitable only for mature audiences, not because of explicit scenes or anything, but because the topics it addresses are so complex and subtle that one needs to be mature enough to appreciate them.

This play makes me think. I find it interesting that society has it ingrained upon itself that straight white male privilege is almost a right. Hence, when Matt disavows this privilege, people think of him as a failure. It's almost saying like because one is straight, white, and male, one has to succeed, and it is a crime if one doesn't. It is a sad world, then, if our standard for success and happiness is mostly controlled by a significant portion of half of the population of most of Europe and North America.

The thing I like of plays in general, as well as this play in particular, is that no matter how serious the topic being addressed might be, there are still humorous segments which lighten up the mood. As a non-straight non-white male, there were times in which I felt so foreign, given the stereotypical behavior that was being portrayed on stage didn't match the way I behave. The dialogue was also quite witty in this play, and it kept us on the edge of our seats for the most part.

Overall it was a good theatre experience. I would recommend watching this play in case it comes to a theatre near you.

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