Straight White Men

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Straight White Men
Written byYoung Jean Lee
Date premiered2014
Place premieredThe Public Theater,
New York City, New York
Original languageEnglish
GenreDrama, comedy
SettingHouse in Midwestern United States

Straight White Men is a 2014 American play by Young Jean Lee.[1] The play's 2018 production at the Hayes Theater made Lee the first Asian American woman to have a play produced on Broadway.[2]


Much of Straight White Men was born out of a workshop Lee conducted with a group of women, people of color, and LGBTQ people where she raised the questions "What do you think of straight white men?" and "...what would you rather they be like?" After a lengthy discussion, the group decided the ideal straight white man was someone who was not aggressive, who was passive in social justice spaces and overall did not interfere with their causes.[3] Lee took the ideas and created a straight white male character that fit the workshop's description: this became the character of Matt in the finished play. When Lee brought the character back to the workshop, however, she was surprised to discover that the group hated him. On further discussion, the group realized they cared more that Matt was a loser than a straight white man. From there, Lee became interested in unpacking what the label "straight white man" actually meant, and the unrealistic expectations behind it.[4]


The pre-show consists of "loud hip-hop with sexually explicit lyrics by female rappers." The pre-show and scene transitions are guided by Stagehand-In-Charge, who is "transgender or gender nonconforming."

During the Christmas holidays, three brothers return to their family home in the Midwestern United States to keep their widowed father, Ed, company. Drew is a writer, Jake is a banker, and Matt, the oldest brother and a Harvard graduate, has moved back in with Ed. The family begins to question the reason for Matt's lack of ambition, while Matt insists that he is content.


Straight White Men opened off-Broadway at the Public Theatre on November 7, 2014 and closed on December 14, 2014. The play was directed by the author, Young Jean Lee. The cast featured Austin Pendleton as "Ed", Pete Simpson, James Stanley, and Gary Wilmes.[5][6]

The play was produced by the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Chicago, in February 2017 to March 26, 2017 in a revised and restaged version.[7] The Marin Theatre Company produced the play in June and July 2018.[8]

The play made its Broadway premiere for a limited run on June 29, 2018 in previews at the Hayes Theatre, with the official opening July 23. Directed by Anna D. Shapiro, the cast features Armie Hammer as Drew, Josh Charles as Jake, Paul Schneider as Matt, Kate Bornstein and Ty Defoe as the Stagehands-In-Charge, and Stephen Payne as Ed (Tom Skerritt left the show prior to opening and Denis Arndt left during previews).[9][10][11] The production closed September 9, 2018.


The Broadway production received mixed-to-positive reviews from New York theater critics. The main source of criticism was that the piece was not as confrontational as Lee's other works, with The New Yorker critic Hilton Als writing "not only does it not exhibit any of the humor, recklessness, and passion of Lee's previous work; it refutes those things."[12] Others praised it on the basis of the same reasoning, with Matthew Wexler writing for The Broadway Blog that Lee intentionally makes the production "a calculated portrait."[13] Jesse Green, writing for The New York Times, compared the Broadway production under Shapiro's direction unfavorably to the 2014 production at the Public directed by Lee herself. Green noted that the Off-Broadway production "was shaggier and, paradoxically, more coherent," but overall received the play positively and concluded that the play "is still an exceedingly odd — and thus welcome — presence on Broadway. It remains undeniably powerful, especially when Mr. Schneider, excellent as the forlorn and heartbreaking Matt, tries to make his family understand something he can barely articulate to himself."[14]


  1. ^ Isherwood, Charles (November 18, 2014). "My Three Sons and All Their Troubles, 'Straight White Men' Opens at the Public Theater". The New York Times.
  2. ^ Paulson, Michael (20 April 2017). "Rebuilding a Broadway Theater With American Voices". New York Times. Retrieved 18 June 2018.
  3. ^ Tan, Monica. "Playwright Young Jean Lee: what do we really want from straight white men?". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 May 2020.
  4. ^ Saxena, Jaya (August 15, 2018). "Young Jean Lee Has Some Questions for Straight White Men". GQ.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  5. ^ "Listing", retrieved September 12, 2017
  6. ^ Straight White Men, retrieved September 12, 2017
  7. ^ Jones, Chris. " 'Straight White Men': Young Jean Lee asks audience, herself to see both sides" Chicago Tribune, February 12, 2017
  8. ^ "To Close '17-'18 Season, Marin Theatre Co. Turns to 'Ever-Audacious' Lee's 'Straight White Men' – June 14-July 8" Enjoy Mill Valley, June 8, 2018
  9. ^ Evans, Greg (April 5, 2018). "Josh Charles To Make Broadway Debut In 'Straight White Men' With Armie Hammer". Deadline. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
  10. ^ Clement, Olivia. "Denis Arndt Replaces Tom Skerritt in 'Straight White Men' on Broadway" Playbill, June 25, 2018
  11. ^ McPhee, Ryan. "Stephen Payne Replaces Last-Minute Addition Denis Arndt in Broadway’s 'Straight White Men'" Playbill, July 5, 2018
  12. ^ Als, Hilton. "The Soullessness of "Straight White Men"". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2 August 2018.
  13. ^ Wexler, Matthew. "Man on Mansplaining: 'Straight White Men'". The Broadway Blog. Retrieved 10 August 2018.
  14. ^ Green, Jesse (23 July 2018). "Review: 'Straight White Men,' Now Checking Their Privilege on Broadway". The New York times. Retrieved 10 August 2018.