Straight: Theater review by Raven Snook
At this point, the “postracial” myth has been completely debunked. However, ask your average urban lefties where the gay-rights movement stands and they'll probably declare an equality victory. While that viewpoint may be supported from a political perspective, coming to terms with your own sexual orientation, even in this age of acceptance and fluidity, can still be a harrowing personal experience—especially for sports-loving, chick-shtupping, hetero-seeming dudes. Enter Ben (Jake Epstein, doing all he can to try to turn a cliché into a character), a 26-year-old financial grunt involved in a long-term relationship with his college sweetheart, geneticist Emily (Jenna Gavigan in a thankless role), who really wants to move in together. But his commitment-phobia has a lot to do with Chris (Thomas E. Sullivan, equally sexy and sympathetic), the gay, 20-year-old student he's sleeping with, albeit with oodles of guilt and self-hatred.
If that setup sounds fustier than a '70s issue of Blueboy magazine, playwrights Scott Elmegreen and Drew Fornarola (frequent collaborators best known for their children's shows) are actually attempting to explore loaded contemporary issues, such as the reductive nature of identity labels and the way some straights fetishize queerness. But these intriguing ideas come through in clunky debate-club dialogue, two-dimensional stereotypes and a surprise-free storyline that makes you yearn for some much-needed drama to come out of the closet.
There is one indelible scene in which Chris taunts Ben about his sexuality by mincing around in vaudevillian nance fashion. Enraged, Ben throws Chris down violently on the couch, calls him a "faggot," then jumps on top of him and starts kissing him and tearing off his clothes. In that emotionally charged exchange, the audience experiences all of Ben's conflicted and frenzied feelings: lust, shame, confusion, self-loathing, ecstasy and possibly love. It's the one moment of illumination in a show that too often plays like a relic of a darker age.—Raven Snook
Acorn Theatre (Off Broadway). By Scott Elmegreen and Drew Fornarola. Directed by Andy Sandberg. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 30mins. No intermission.