Every time I turned on the radio last week, there was an interview with Young Jean Lee, talking about her most accessible stage work, “Straight White Men” in its West Coast premiere at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.
Why? Because of the strong ensemble performances, the realistic language and a premise that leads to much audience discussion in the lobby following this rapid-fire, 90-minute, three-act no-intermission production. The night I attended, there was a large post-show crowd and much opinionating.
It’s almost Christmas and three brothers convene at their father’s home for the holiday. One already lives there – the eldest, Matt (Brian Slaten) – ostensibly he’s helping to care for his widower Dad Ed (Richard Riehle) but possibly more for reasons of his own.
Youngest son Drew (Frank Boyd) is a teacher and an award-winning fiction writer, and middle son Jake (Gary Wilmes, from the original New York Public Theatre cast) is a successful but divorced banker.
The first clue that these three sons have been raised with a sort of liberal noblesse oblige is the game their mother created for them, a Monopoly board rebranded as “Privilege,” helping them learn how to “do the right thing” for society, given the privilege of their circumstances.
Despite his success, Drew is in therapy in order to better “self-actualize.” Jake is a balls-out, testosterone-driven overachiever divorced from his black wife.
But in the middle of their traditional Christmas Eve (delivered) Chinese food dinner (wait, is this a Jewish play?) Matt breaks down in tears. And no one can say why. Especially not Matt. Each family member tries to find out what’s eating him. Except for Matt.
They rough-house with each other, fight over video games, what movie to watch, how to decorate the Christmas tree, behave like frat boy brats, but soon the focus changes to what’s wrong with Matt and why.
Of the three sons, Matt was the most promising, the highest achiever (he went to Harvard!). But here he is, living with Ed, taking a series of part-time do-gooder jobs, and simply accepting his lot in life.
He’s burdened with school loan debts, but that’s not it. He’s not suffering from “low self-esteem,” as Drew believes, but maybe, as Jake believes, he’s suffering from the white man’s burden of making the world a better place for all and he doesn’t know how to do this. Maybe he just feels useless.
As Ed steps up offering to pay off Matt’s debt, Matt simply can’t accept it and rejects Ed’s check. In the end, for his own good, Ed tells Matt he’ll have to leave, stand on his own feet, and figure out what to do with his life on his own.
There may not be a resolution here but “Straight White Men” is provocative, and it irritated some audience members who spoke up during the audience talk-back.
I recommend it and suggest that you stick around afterward to share your thoughts, too. But hurry: “Straight White Men” runs at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City only through December 20th. Find out more at https://www.centertheatregroup.org/tickets/straight-white-men/
As a foodie myself, I think about how hunter-gatherers were focused on obtaining food and feeding themselves (when they weren’t being chased by the game they wanted to eat) and how easy we have it today.
But I never thought about how completely immersed in food medieval culture was, how it impacted social class, employment and privilege.
There are countless references to growing, preparing, consuming and the symbolic meanings of food in illustrated manuscripts from the Middle Ages and Renaissance.
“Eat, Drink, and Be Merry: Food in the Middle Ages and Renaissance” at the Getty Center is a one-room exhibition showcasing select illustrations that illuminate all these aspects.
Manna from heaven, Christ’s body and blood, the last supper, secular feasts for aristocrats and peasants, and symbolic images of food in biblical stories are represented, revealing the range of daily labors and leisures in the Middle Ages. This exhibition ends on January 3, and is located in the Getty’s North Pavilion.
A larger exhibition “The Edible Monument: The Art of Food for Festivals” is at the Getty Research Institute featuring massive festival settings from early modern Europe that go way overboard.
A complete temple compound made of sugar, architectural structures built out of cheese, bread, meat and more, 100-foot long banquet settings and decadent dessert buffets are all featured here, both in images and models.
Discover “The Land of Cockaigne,” a mythical paradise on earth, where “Whoever works the Least Earns the Most,” with a lake of meatballs and salami, plains of marzipan and candies, a river of Spanish wine, hills of fine sugar cakes and mountains of gold to make the mouth water.
Early manuals provide illustrated techniques for butchery, baking and the use of tools for kitchen chores. For me the big eye opener was a set of prints on two walls in the final gallery, depicting the tradesmen and women who plied their wares on the streets, in particular the coffee man who carries his oversized heated samovar on his back.
Come full, leave hungry. “The Edible Monument” runs through March 13 at www.getty.edu.
Sarah A. Spitz spent her career as a producer at public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica and produced freelance arts reports for NPR. She has also written features and reviews for various print and online publications.