Playwright becomes first Asian-American woman to have Broadway show with 'Straight White Men'

VIDEO: Asian-American female playwright makes history with play on Broadway PlayABCNews.com
WATCH Asian-American female playwright makes history with play on Broadway

Young Jean Lee was just 2 years old when she moved to the U.S. from South Korea with her family for the American dream.

She grew up in Pullman, Washington, attended Berkeley for undergrad, studying English, and then headed to graduate school before finally setting off to New York with dreams of writing plays.

"I remember when I told people that I was going to quit my path of trying to be a Shakespeare scholar in order to become a playwright, people reacted as if I were a veterinarian and wanted to be a dog. It was just crazy!" she said laughing.

Little did Lee and those folks know that after years of writing and rewriting, she'd accomplish something that's never been done before.

On Monday, Lee became the first Asian-American female playwright to have a show on Broadway. Her provocative comedy "Straight White Men" is playing at the Helen Hayes Theater.

PHOTO: Lee became the first Asian-American female playwright to have a show on Broadway. Her comedy Straight White Men is playing at the Helen Hayes Theater.ABC
Lee became the first Asian-American female playwright to have a show on Broadway. Her comedy "Straight White Men" is playing at the Helen Hayes Theater.

Lee told ABC News that she felt a bit of pressure surrounding that historic title.

"I want this show to do well, not just for my sake but also, you know, given that that's the case," she said. "I worry a little bit about what if this show doesn't do well and what that means for the door opening for others."

Lee said she started writing the play in 2013. She said she'd started to notice that straight, white men were starting to get labeled.

"For many years, they just got to be the default human and nobody was putting the label on them," she said. "And, suddenly, straight white men were getting slapped with a label that comes with stereotypes. ... I wanted to explore that."

PHOTO: Straight White Men focuses on a father named Ed and his three sons and centers around those conversations and confrontations that families often have over the holidays.ABC
"Straight White Men" focuses on a father named Ed and his three sons and centers around those conversations and confrontations that families often have over the holidays.

"Straight White Men" focuses on a father named Ed and his three sons and centers around those conversations and confrontations that families often have over the holidays. The set -- complete with board games, family photos and bins of Christmas decorations -- is based on her parents' basement, she said.

"The most exciting part for me has been how relatively young and diverse the audiences have been for Broadway," Lee said. "During the initial previews, I'd just be in tears every time another person of color, young person, group of women, would come in. ... That part has been really thrilling already."

The Helen Hayes Theater, which just completed a multimillion-dollar renovation, is led by Carole Rothman, also the co-founder of Second Stage Theater, which produces shows exclusively by living American playwrights.

"I think they [U.S. playwrights] have a lot to say and I'm interested in the conversation that goes on around the country, particularly about what it means to be an American," Rothman said. "We really want to do plays that provoke conversation."

PHOTO: Carole Rothman is the founder of Second Stage Theater, which produces shows exclusively by living American playwrights. She helped get Straight White Men on Broadway. ABC
Carole Rothman is the founder of Second Stage Theater, which produces shows exclusively by living American playwrights. She helped get "Straight White Men" on Broadway.

Armie Hammer, who took a break from Hollywood to star in the play and make his Broadway debut, said the comedy was "packed so tight" with different ideas and social commentaries.

"After getting sort of, getting into it, and all that I thought, 'You know, this is exactly what I feel like I need to do,'" said Hammer, who appeared in the 2017 movie "Call Me by Your Name."

Lee shared what she hoped audiences got from "Straight White Men."

"My dream is for audiences to just sort of go on this ride and then end up with all these sort of questions and ideas that they talk about with their friends afterward over dinner," she said. "That's sort of my favorite thing to hear is people just saying, 'I need to go talk about this for a while.'"

PHOTO: Armie Hammer, who stars in the play and is making his Broadway debut, said the comedy was packed so tight with different ideas and social commentaries.ABC
Armie Hammer, who stars in the play and is making his Broadway debut, said the comedy was "packed so tight" with different ideas and social commentaries.

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