Written by Mary
Sometimes theatre is there to entertain. Sometimes it’s there to teach. With the play titled Straight, it does both
A few weeks ago I showed up ten minutes before show time for a chance to get a $20 ticket to a show called “Straight: the Play” at the Acorn Theatre. I was standing there waiting and thinking about how my life had culminated in that moment. I was finally going to see Jake Epstein perform something live. To say I was keyed up was the biggest understatement of the year, my stomach was in so many knots from the anticipation.
Let me back up a bit and explain my fascination with Jake Epstein. When I was 12, I was introduced to him as an actor through the show, “Degrassi: The Next Generation,” a Canadian teen soap. His character, Craig, caught my eye at first because I found him to be kind of cute. However, Craig soon kept my attention because of his brokenness. There was something redeemable about Craig, and I fell in love with that. So began my love affair with the acting skills of Jake Epstein. Then he joined the tour cast of “Spring Awakening,” but given my age, location, and financial situation I couldn’t go see him perform. I was bummed to say the least. However, not long after I moved to New York I had my chance once again. He was cast in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.” and I could go and see him perform. Unfortunately, my timing was once again bad. I didn’t get any opportunity to see the show until close to the end of his run. So naturally when they finally announced that Jake was doing an off-Broadway show at the Acorn I told myself that under no circumstances would I miss out on it.
The show opens on the one setting used for the whole play, Ben’s apartment. I like that the play only had one setting because it made the whole story and message that much more intimate. Ben and this young man sitting on opposite ends of a couch. Based on their facial features and body language you can automatically tell that this is an awkward situation. Sure enough we soon learn that Ben met this kid, yes kid as he is 6 years younger than Ben, online. To me that shows a real mark of how people meet in today’s society. We don’t really go to bars and pick up people anymore. There is a whole world of online dating sites that get us any and all things we desire.
As the play progresses, we see that each scene flips back and forth between one-on-one scenes with Ben and Chris, the kid from online, and Ben and Emily, his long-time girlfriend. It quickly becomes apparent that Ben loves both Emily and Chris. He also struggles with this because to him he’s not gay but he’s also not completely straight either. All the while I was thinking, I don’t really fit into either category either. I find myself looking at both genders but I don’t really feel any strong desire for either.
As Ben progresses through the play he begins to voice to Chris more and more about his inner struggles. He talks about how society likes to put lines around things so that things fit all nice and pretty, but that he doesn’t really fit into any of those lines. He admits to liking to do things with guys but that he can’t let go of what he has with Emily either because it’s so important to him. Ben’s anguish is shown more through what he doesn’t say than what he does. When Chris or even Emily talks to him about what he wants or what is bothering him he gets silent, but, his eyes have a sadness to them that breaks your heart.
This whole time Ben has been set up as the type of person who would rather suffer in silence than rock the boat. He tries really hard to avoid or deny things that are too messy or complicated to think about. As the story comes to a close, I want nothing more than for Ben to just sit down with both Emily and Chris and discuss what he truly wants from both of them and have them go forward that way, but I know that he never will.
The story of Ben points to a greater conversation that we as a whole need to be having. Yes, labels can be great for defining certain things, but for some people these labels are crippling because we feel that we must choose between one or the other. I know from experience that many hours and days can be spent agonizing over where one fits in in society. I don’t fit into a perfect little box and I don’t think anyone should allow themselves to be. However, society wants boxes because complicated and messy situations are just things they don’t want to think about.
In a way Ben is society, he is picking one box over the other because otherwise things get complicated and too hard to talk about. However, we need to be having these hard conversations because humans are not 2 dimensional. We all have layers and these layers should be celebrated instead of limited.
As Ben so aptly points out, “Everyone wants a gay friend, but no one wants a gay kid.” We as a society must find it within ourselves to accept certain things in certain situations and not accept it in others. It is imperative that we work on accepting everyone in all situations in all that they are.
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