"I just asked myself, 'if I were to wake up tomorrow morning and I was still me, with all of my past experiences and my personality, but I was just in the body of a straight white man, like a Freaky Friday-type of situation, what would I do?'" she says. "That's what the story came out of."
The play, which opened Off-Broadway at the Public Theatre in New York City in 2014, explores the value of being a straight white male at a time when identity matters, and privilege is problematic. When Ed and his three adult sons – a seemingly happy, trash-talking family – come together to celebrate Christmas, they struggle to put their finger on that value when they gather for Christmas, enjoying cheerful trash-talking, pranks, and takeout Chinese food.
"The way straight white men are with me is different than what they are like when I am not there, so that was the thing I had no idea about," Lee says. "We're in a historical moment where straight white male-ness is being treated like an identity where for so many years, it wasn't. All of a sudden, straight white male is a label getting slapped on people and it's being used in a derogatory way. So, basically, for the first time in history, straight white men are experiencing what everyone else has been experiencing all along and unsurprisingly, they don't like it."
Directed by Morgan Gould, Straight White Men opens at MTC in the same month that it opens at the Helen Hayes Theatre on Broadway with a star-studded cast that includes Armie Hammer, Josh Charles and Tom Skerritt. Lee's work has drawn near-universal acclaim, with The New Yorker declaring, "the 43-year-old playwright is one of downtown's most trenchant, least crowd-pleasing talents, whose stubbornly genre-resistant work melds identity politics, Dadaist humor and meta-theatrical mind games."
Lee has written and directed nine shows in New York with Young Jean Lee's Theater Company and toured her work to more than 30 cities around the world. She is the recipient of two OBIE Awards, the Festival Prize of the Zürcher Theater Spektakel, a 2010 Prize in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a 2011 Guggenheim Fellowship, and a 2012 Doris Duke Artist Award.
"The signal surprise of Straight White Men, written by the ever-audacious Young Jean Lee, is that the play is not a full-frontal assault on the beings of the title," says the New York Times, calling her “hands down, the most adventurous downtown playwright of her generation.”
The 411: Straight White Men opens at the Marin Theatre Company on June 14. MORE INFO & TIX. On Thursday, June 7 at 7:30pm at the Mill Valley Library, MTC Artistic Director Jasson Minadakis will be in conversation with members of the cast to dive deeper into the themes of the work, and why they decided to bring Lee's work to Mill Valley.