Four Woke Baes begins like a bromance Hollywood movie – think The Hangover or Grown Ups. Four American straight men go on a stag weekend-cum-camping trip before protagonist Des’s wedding. It’s all cheesy jokes and masculine banter until the unexpected arrival of lone traveller Emma disrupts the men’s night of beer-drinking and barbeque-grilling.
What began like a light-hearted episode of Friends soon takes a turn into an exploration of gender stereotypes, traditional heterosexual relationships and the nature of marriage. The men each seem to represent different perspectives on monogamy and fidelity: Des is preparing to marry, Sean is recently divorced, Andre has been married for years, and Boardman is single and promiscuous. Emma’s open-minded, über-liberal approach to sex and commitment – in fact, her mere presence – then challenges the men’s egos and rattles their beliefs. After initial animosity, the characters begin sharing more and more, and soon lines are crossed and regrets are born.
The performances here are confident and finely tuned – particularly from Matt Stadelmann as Sean – and the humour well-timed, if safe. It is a little difficult to feel sympathy for the main character, though, despite the blunt divorced-parents exposition at the play’s opening (in fact, Des’s prologue and epilogue seem unnecessary altogether). Perhaps we’re not supposed to. In fact, the only character the audience is likely to have built a connection to by the finale is on-the-edge Sean, whose life has fallen apart and who displays a much clearer conscience than anyone else, despite holding a rifle to another character at one point. Even amiable and punchline-pulling Andre disappoints in the end.
Baes is funny, cohesive, skilfully-performed and engaging. However, it does seem to miss an opportunity in creating genuine pathos. Some of the observations of gender are questionable and the sole female character is portrayed in a crueller light than the males who are arguably less morally sound than her. The baes aren’t as woke they’d like to think.