“Cynical and raw, hilarious and squirm-inducing, the play asks just how liberal “woke” boys really are when they’re alone together, out in nature, beers in hand,” so the synopsis for Jonathan Caren’s Four Woke Baes goes. I was sceptical: it’s quite common for male-centred comedy to make fun of men not being “woke” (enough or at all) and it is quite difficult to do it well, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia pretty much being the champion of it. Despite this scepticism, I quickly found myself won over by the dark comedy of Caren’s script, the funny and smooth interplay between the cast, and the quick wit and philosophy of the dialogue and characterisation.
The story follows four friends as they go camping for a bachelor party: Dez, the bachelor; Andre, happily married; Boardman, swaggering sex addict; and Sean, the divorcee vegan musician. The plot kicks into gear when a woman, Emma, arrives and it turns out they are staying in the wrong campsite – her campsite. After an agreement to share the space, a lively debate begins about love and relationships as personalities, egos and sex drives clash.
The building of the drama feels completely natural, aided by how easily the actors have slipped into their roles. There is palpable sexual tension in the air once the men realise they are all attracted to Emma, and great humour to be found when this is matched with the fact that Emma is the smartest person there, culminating in a hilarious strip-tease sequence that had the audience in fits of laughter.
Because the story is one of sex, and love, and how those two things can either become intertwined and can often not be. Can one truly separate lust and love, as Emma believes? The men hold a deep affection for each other, clearly, with no indication that their arguments are detrimental in the long-term to their friendship. But none of them wants to have sex with each other. Emma seeks out sex and takes pleasure from that. But she does not love those she sleeps with.
And what of relationships? What of marriage? Why do we enter into romantic relationships with people? Is a successful relationship one where complete trust and openness is present or is ignorance bliss? Should couples be realistic about the possibility that the relationship might end, and does recognising that possibility mean that, subconsciously, you either want or expect it to happen?
Four Woke Baes tackles these questions head-on in a thoroughly entertaining and engaging manner. It deeply invests the audience in the lives of these people and in the story of one chance meeting which alters the course of their entire lives. Every actor is on the top of their game; Michael Braun’s Andre is charming with just the right amount of self-consciousness, Matt Stadelmann’s Sean the sweet yet highly neurotic one. Quincy Dunn Baker plays Boardman to a T – he is like a modern Stanley Kowalski, a gaudy seed-bearer who clearly tries to be the alpha of the group. Lyndsey Fonseca as Emma, too, is wonderful; with absolute confidence and assurance, the four-to-one balance of the stage nonetheless feels completely equal. And Noah Bean’s Dez is affable and straight-shooting, dancing the fine line between appearing uncomplicated and making it clear that there is more brewing beneath the surface. Electrically brought to life with Teddy Bergman’s direction, the performances are great, and it’s enough to brush over a third-act revelation which doesn’t quite get the dramatic attention it deserves.
You can watch Four Woke Baes for yourself at Underbelly, Cowgate, 17:05, from August 1 – 11, 13 – 26.