Tag: John Gaden


Four blokes and one family Christmas

By Myron My

Upon entering Fairfax Studio at the Arts Centre Melbourne, you can’t help but notice Candy Bowers as the Stagehand-in-Charge sitting up in her booth, playing some hip hop music, including Khia’s racy “My Neck, My Back”. As the music plays, she regularly glances over the audience while flicking through a newspaper, the back page emblazoned with “Black Lives Matter”. Considering we are about to see Young Jean Lee’s Straight White Men, a play about a family of the four eponymous men getting together for Christmas celebrations, the ruthless satire is punching us in the face, especially as she makes her way down to the stage and introduces us to the make-believe world.

Straight White Men.jpg

The “brotherly” chemistry between Hamish Michael, Luke Ryan and Gareth Reeves, as siblings Drew, Jake and Matt respectively, is undeniable. Their scenes together have a believable authenticity and you do feel like they have known each other for their entire lives. Michael in particular is a highlight as the youngest sibling, trying to help his family while trying not to be seen as the baby of said family. Ryan also impresses with his alpha-male banker who would prefer that the status quo under which he is comfortably living is not ruffled. Reeves as the oldest sibling offers an accomplished performance as a white man struggling to find his place in society and to not be seen as living off his privilege. Despite the other characters being louder and more animated than Reeves’, he manages to have a quiet but strong presence on stage. John Gaden as patriarch Ed, brings a nurturing and fragile depth to the man who only wants the best for his children.

The set and costume design is another impressive feat by Eugyeene Teh. While this is a little more conservative than what I’ve previously seen in his work (and this is due to the script itself), he captures the mood perfectly and once again is able to make the environment just as much of a character in the story as the four men on stage. Along with Lisa Mibus‘ intelligent lighting and David Heinrich‘s sleek sound design, all the elements come together seamlessly for Straight White Men.

While I enjoyed the show, especially the stellar performances from the cast, I feel Lee’s script ultimately lacked a deeper exploration of what these men are actually arguing about and the privilege they have, to really leave a mark. There are some extremely funny scenes and some that capture realistic sibling relationships, but the overall story seems to become preoccupied with this humour at the expense of the more powerful issues. It is clear Lee knows what she wants to say but possibly not how she wants to say it.

Straight White Men is an enjoyable performance, but this play ends up more a family Christmas dramedy than an intended piece of satire that will have people – mainly straight white men – questioning their privilege and perceiving how lucky they are.

Venue: Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Road, Melbourne, 3004
Season: Until 18 June | Mon – Tues 6.30pm, Wed 1pm, Wed-Fri 8pm, Sat 4pm and 8.30pm
Tickets: $39 – 77
Bookings: MTC


Powerful family politics play out to the bitter end

By Ross Larkin

Jon Robin Baitz’s Other Desert Cities is surely one of the more intriguing and gripping contemporary plays of the last decade. Unpacking the fragile segments of family politics saturated with love and lies, tension and grief – Baitz’s comedy drama reveals its inner belly at just the right pace.


The MTC’s version opened this week, to a very receptive crowd. Director Sam Strong has perfectly cast Robyn Nevin as the simmering Polly, doing everything in her power to suppress her past, while maintaining an edge of ruthless charm. Nevin is utterly convincing in her portrayal of a privileged, somewhat manipulative woman who is dangerously close to breaking down.

Daughter Brooke, however (Sacha Horler), enters with nothing left to lose, and very little tolerance for her family’s insincerities. Horler offers a tremendous balance of light, shade and the chasm in between. Her unwinding and revealing at just the right pace and level of authenticity showcases Horler as the diverse and believable actress she is. The beautiful aspect to Nevin and Horler’s performances is that one does not ever see them ‘working’: we cannot see the acting, we are only absorbed by the truth of the characters.

John Gaden as husband Lyman is equally fitting in his transformation from loving family man to nervous wreck. It’s a demanding role which could very easily fall flat with a less-experienced actor or under the wrong direction. Gaden doesn’t disappoint with his direct and uncompromising performance.

Ian Meadows and Sue Jones as son Trip and Aunt Silda respectively begin as borderline caricatures, with pantomine gestures and postures. Fortunately, however, in spite of restricting themselves initially to exaggerated comic relief, Meadows and Jones do manage to absorb themselves in the unfolding drama, and by the end, both deliver powerful punches.

An obvious choice was made to stage most of the family drama in a living room behind large glass windows, to create the feeling that one is on the outside observing the action, like trapped fish in a bowl. While this technique was aesthetically interesting and in line with the play’s concept, it did, at times, prevent complete engagement between audience and drama. There was literally a wall between us, which more than likely prevented some great opportunities for intimacy.

Nonetheless, Strong has achieved great momentum with Other Desert Cities, helped in no uncertain terms by its brilliant lead actors, and this remains one of the most riveting and unforgettable plays of our generation. 

Venue Southbank Theatre, The Sumner

Season dates 2 March to 17 April 2013

Tickets from $58, Under 30s just $33

Bookings Southbank Theatre Box Office 03 8688 0800 or mtc.com.au