Edinburgh Fringe, Jonathan Caren, Jonathan Caren's Four Woke Baes, Lyndsy Fonseca, Marriage, Matt Stadelmann, Michael Braun, Noah Bean, Quincy Dunn-Baker, Sex, Teddy Bergman, The Devil, Theatre Review, Underbelly
Four friends are camping in the woods beside the Colorado River, as part of a “bachelor party” to mark the engagement of Dez (Noah Bean). I immediately identify with these men and I feel like I could be all or any of them. They are old drinking friends in a way that seems familiar and very authentic to me. There is soon that uniquely hollow atmosphere that emerges on nights such as these, when men become more masculine by being together but sexually wistful because it is simultaneously a male-only environment. They drift into talking about sex and then Boardman (Quincy Dunn-Baker) fantasises about calling up some bitches. And then a single woman (Lyndsy Fonseca) steps out of the woods and straight into their unprepared world.
For a long time, the play rejoices in the awkwardness of the meeting. The men are informed that they are at the wrong campsite and that the woman, Emma, has in fact booked this one. Uneasily the two parties try to settle down together for the night. The glances exchanged between the men and their sneaky prurience are all totally real.
The Devil will appear like this, deep in the forest, as he did, for example, to Young Goodman Brown. Emma is never remotely vulnerable and the men always seem to be more disconcerted by her than she is by them. In a double entendre as thin as the moonlight, she refers to the campsite as “my ground.” The Devil is traditionally a purveyor of temptation and we can soon detect the fault line in this story. All of the men have in different ways accepted the idea of fidelity, whether they are trying to live up to it or to get over their failure to achieve it. Emma, on the other hand, is an incarnation of freedom. She is a freedom fighter and a believer in female empowerment.
The men are defeated in the middle of their own bachelor party. They are meant to be living it up in the woods, but once Emma is haranguing them, they look dreary, suburban and unadventurous. It is as if Germaine Greer has been accidentally invited on a stag do. Emma idly tries to magic the men into being strippers but their routine falls apart before their pants have come down. It was necessary to correct my ignorance here over the meaning of the word “baes.” I had initially thought that it was sassy slang for “boys” – denoting youth and freedom – but it is apparently instead an acronym for “Before Anyone Else,” signifying love and devotion. That the men are “woke” presumably means that they can see now that fidelity doesn’t work.
For at least two thirds of its duration, “Four Woke Baes” is compelling and ambitious. The writer should learn when to quit, however, or he should have left behind a bit of mystery to keep his play squeaky sharp. The ending is overly action-packed and with the final, unconvincing revelation about Andre (Michael Braun) it is in peril of getting tiresome.
This play is the sort of therapeutic drama that is ever more common in America now, in which every single character is on a public emotional journey and being scooped out completely clean of their secrets. Needless to say, this is not realism. There is even some surprise closure at the end regarding Dez’s parents, who never appear in person and who are largely irrelevant to the story.
You will walk out of “Four Woke Baes” trying to cling on to how good it had felt for most of its time on stage. I don’t know whether it is therefore a success or a failure. Its Devil, Emma, has snatched back a little credibility by murdering a rabbit, but she should have been allowed to melt away into the forest, without a word of explanation.