“straight” puts sexual exploration onstage

The media slogan for “Straight” reads as follows: “Ben likes beer, sports, and Emily. And Chris.” The poster features Thomas E. Sullivan (Chris) and Jenna Gavigan (Emily) on either side of Jake Epstein (Ben). On the surface, this seems like a very simple, made-for-TV-movie plot that begs the question: is he straight or gay?

“Straight,” located at the Acorn Theater, written by Scott Elmegreen and Drew Fornarole, and directed by Andy Sandberg, is a very barebones piece exploring a (supposedly) modern and universal question about sexuality. There is one set (by Charlie Corcoran), three characters, few plot events, few costume changes (costumes designed by Michael McDonald), and few other technical aspects (lighting by Grant YEager, sound by Alex Hawthorn, and original music by Will Van Dyke). Becuase of it’s minimalism, the show allows the audience to really focus on the three characters, and their confusing love triangle of Ben’s two separate relationships: one straight and marriage-bound with Emily and one awkwardly experimental gay with Chris.

The play initially sets Ben and Emily as a standard heterosexual couple, she is a grad student and he is a stock trader–the only anomaly is his lack of commitment and refusal to move in with her. However, this desire for a space of his own is explained in the second scene in which he has a first sexual encounter with Chris. Ben is clearly inexperienced and very awkward about the whole gay hookup thing. But as the play continues his relationship with Chris gets more and more natural, while his relationship with Emily only gets more strained over time.

In a climatic but expected scene, Emily walks in on Ben and Chris (who had accidentally slept over). But in an oddly shocking (and unrealistic) twist she doesn’t assume there was anything sexual going on–just two bros watching the game in their underwear, that’s normal, right? From that moment on, Ben realizes that he has to make a choice: Chris or Emily. He knows who he should choose, but for very reasons (internalized homophobia) he just isn’t ready “to be gay yet.” In the final scene Chris convinces him that they would be happy together; Ben agrees. Afterwards, Ben sees Emily and says they have to talk, but instead of breaking up with her, he proposes. Then the play ends.

It is hard to leave this play feeling happy, or satisfied–not just with the state of homophobia in our society, but in the lack of nuance in the play as a whole. The fundamental question of the play is about labels, albeit very simplified ones. For the sake of this play, Ben can only be “straight” or “gay.” That’s it. Seemingly, the question of the play can be solved very easily with a few more queer options like bisexuality, or even polyamory. Although in the play Ben has to make a choice of partner and a choice of (mono)sexuality, the real world has much more grey area.

Although “Straight” tries to explore sexuality, it falls short by claiming that “straight” and “gay” are the only options in the world. However, it is still a worthwhile play to be produced right now, since it is getting people outside the queer community talking about sexuality (a topic they so often ignore)–and for this, I commend the play.