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Progressive identity politics has now made it to Broadway with—literally—a vengeance. The occasion is Second Stage Theater’s new production of “Straight White Men,” a 2014 satire about straight white men and their discontents written by Young Jean Lee, who now becomes the first Asian-American woman to have a play produced on the Great White Way. Not only has it already had successful runs at the Public Theater and Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company, but the cast includes a movie star-in-the-making, Armie Hammer (“Call Me by Your Name”). Whether “Straight White Men” would have reached Broadway without Mr. Hammer is a moot point, but it’s there now, and the box office is doing brisk business. Unfortunately, the play isn’t any good, though that won’t matter, since it fulfills the first condition of success on Broadway: It tells the members of the audience what they want to hear, and nothing else….
Ms. Lee may not have heard, but liberal New Yorkers who go to the theater like nothing more than to be flagellated therein for their sins. “Straight White Men” endeavors to sock it to them, presenting us with a baby boomer (Stephen Payne) and his three impeccably progressive sons (Josh Charles, Mr. Hammer and Paul Schneider), all of whom sincerely believe they’re doing their best to check their collective privilege (“Matt got the drama teacher fired for only casting white people in ‘Oklahoma!’”). Not so: It becomes clear no more than 30 seconds into the play that they are still clinging by their fingernails to the immature manners and mores of their benighted class….
“Straight White Men” plays like a 10-minute “Saturday Night Live” sketch blown out to an hour and a half: The jokes have no bite, and once Ms. Lee finishes shooting the fish in her tiny barrel, she has nothing left to do but shoot them again….
Yet another comic exercise in applied identity politics is playing one block east of “Straight White Men”: “Head Over Heels” is a jukebox musical whose score consists of songs recorded by the Go-Go’s, an all-female new-wave power-pop group that had a brief vogue in the Eighties. Very freely adapted by Jeff Whitty from “The Arcadia,” Philip Sidney’s 16th-century pastoral romance about mistaken gender identity, it’s been extensively reworked by James Magruder since its original 2015 Oregon Shakespeare Festival run, to no more than modest effect. The book is still a sophomoric mess, and the 17 songs, which are mostly either fast or rather less so, are lively but unvaried….
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Read the whole thing here.
The trailer for Straight White Men:
The trailer for Head Over Heels: