Love triangles onstage are hardly new material, but the show “Straight” provides a witty, thought-provoking alternative to the heteronormative narrative that usually steals the show. The play, written by Scott Elmegreen and Drew Fornarola, explores gay identity and the pressures of adulthood through the entangled lives of Ben, Emily and Chris.
Ben (Jake Epstein) is a 26-year-old investment banker and long-time boyfriend to Emily (Jenna Gavigan), a smart, bubbly Ph.D. student of genetics. While Emily wants to settle down with Ben in her Boston apartment, Ben secretly hooks-up with the uninhibited and charming college student Chris — played by recent Tisch graduate Thomas E. Sullivan — who slowly helps Ben come to terms with his sexuality. Against the ticking clock of adulthood, Ben feels pressured to choose between his loves interests. The plots consists of tough, self-searching dialogues and a roller coaster of last-minute decisions.
Although “Straight,” directed by Andy Sandberg, deals with an intense subject, it is not too heavy a play. It tackles serious topics with hilarious punch lines and comical situations, especially from Chris, who reminds you of the confidently raunchy class clown you met in high school. When paired with Ben — who remains down to earth and hilariously self-loathing throughout — the two create a fascinating and unpredictable duo you quickly become invested in.
The play combines social commentary with relevant humor to unpack gay stereotypes. Throughout the play, Ben and Chris talk about how their chosen activity of drinking beers and watching football contradicts the stereotyped femininity of gay men. Chris feels more comfortable with this contradiction while Ben sees it as another obstacle in finding his sexuality. His anxieties about his ambiguous feelings towards his orientation were clearly portrayed in one of the most critical lines of the show: “In our culture, the only way to be gay is to be all the way gay.”
Indeed, that is the construct that “Straight” investigates again and again. Ben, uncomfortable with indecision and afraid of becoming the fetishized “gay best friend,” feels he must choose one identity, and soon. His struggle exposes the danger of pigeon-holing sexuality into strict stereotypes. Epstein — who you may recognize as Craig from “Degrassi: The Next Generation” — nails the confused, passive-aggressive character of Ben, but Sullivan’s brilliant delivery, precise timing and natural ease onstage makes him the standout.
“Straight” is playing at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd St. until May 8.
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