To See or Not to See: Straight
Straight is a small play with big thoughts. Like a lot of recent plays on-and-off-Broadway, Straight features only a few actors and a lot of dialogue on various themes—all within a breezy 90 minutes. While the several themes touched upon in the play are wide-ranging–love, gender, career, infidelity—the main theme we see through the lens of the main character’s life is identity.
In Straight, Ben (Jake Epstein) is a typical 26-year-old investment banker living in Boston. He has a longtime college girlfriend, Emily. Emily (Jenna Gavigan) is getting her PhD in genetics and is pushing for Ben to move on to the next step in their relationship with her. Ben, though, has a secret. He has another relationship on the side with Chris (Thomas E. Sullivan), a 20-year-old college student.
All three actors do a fine job of portraying these interconnected characters and their own struggles. Ben’s struggle is the focal point of the show. He struggles to reconcile the person he is with the person the world sees. He grew up with straight, male friends; he played sports, likes watching sports, and is kind of a “bro”. If he comes out and admits he is attracted to men, he worries, the rest of his identity will fall away; people will only see that one small part of him. He’ll forever be known as “the gay one”. In an emotionally-wrought scene between Ben and Chris, Ben explains that even in today’s liberal-minded, more accepting society, “We all want gay friends, but we don’t want our sons to be gay”. So, Ben is perfectly happy staying in this in-between life—having an outer image (the straight banker with a loving girlfriend) and having an inner life of stolen nights with Chris where he doesn’t have to censor himself. This way, he gets the best of both worlds. Epstein captures all of Ben’s fears and wants in a way that doesn’t alienate the audience despite Ben’s inherent selfishness at stringing both Chris and Emily along. Gavigan subtly portrays Emily’s struggle with her identity and desires quite well. Ben refers to her as “Scientist Barbie” a few times which encapsulates how she presents herself (even though she bristles at each mention of the label). Emily balances launching her career in a man’s world (she’s the only female in her lab) with her yearnings for the stereotypical female desires of a marriage, home, and children. Emily loves Ben and is obviously scared to end up single and alone–so much so that she becomes willfully ignorant of the true nature of Ben and Chris’s relationship. Chris, on the surface seemingly content, reveals his own personal struggles with being gay yet from a religious background. He shares with Ben that he’s accepted the fact that he will probably be damned to hell, but he doesn’t dwell on it now. Sullivan’s intense portrayal of Chris was mesmerizing.
While Straight is overflowing with those deeper dramatic discussions, there are plenty of moments of comedic relief. Under the direction of Andy Sandberg, those moments come naturally and effortlessly. Sullivan’s facial expressions and delivery of sly and witty remarks broke moments of tension or awkwardness on stage. One of the highlights is when all three actors converge on stage together at the same time. Between Ben’s frantic aura, Chris’s slow cat-got-the-canary energy, and Emily’s supposed blissful ignorance, you can’t help but laugh as the situation unfolds.
When Straight finally reaches it’s conclusion, you will be left wondering what the future holds for Ben, Emily, and Chris.
Photo Credit: Straight the Play
*Straight opens tonight, February 29, at the Acorn Theater and runs through May 8, 2016.