Q&A: John Valdez, Ben in “Straight”

Describe your role in “Straight.”

Ben is a guy who has done everything he’s “supposed” to do, yet he is chronically unhappy and he doesn’t know why. He’s both intellectual and socially adept; he can read people’s emotions and deduce their motivations, which is a skill that has come in handy for him.

As an actor, I’ve enjoyed playing Ben because he’s a character with a complex thought process, which allows multiple layers to be brought to the table in a grounded and justified way.

Why is it important for audiences to see “Straight”?

This play explores many themes relevant to today’s society, including the fluidity of sexuality, the intersection between desire and morality, and even the nature of happiness. However, at its core, “Straight” is essentially a play about choosing a life partner. After coming away from the show, I hope the audience will engage in discussions about whether or not our main character made the choice they believe is right, which can then, hopefully, be used as a mirror into how they themselves make similar choices in their own lives.

Why do you believe there is a lingering bias against gay Americans?

Society’s beliefs regarding homosexuality will only change when being gay is no longer viewed as derogatory nor a commodity and is instead seen as a fully acknowledged human right in its own unique and beautiful way.

How have friends and family responded to the character you will be playing?

Most of my friends and family have responded with a resounding “huh.” I’m not quite sure most people know what to make of it.

What elements of your life have helped you understand the storyline in “Straight”?

Entering an economically recovering workforce post-college was one of the most difficult transitions of my adult life thus far. As an idealistic and optimistic graduate, meeting the harsh realities of bills, debts and compromises was unexpectedly jarring, to say the least. Post-college life was nothing like I expected, or even hoped it would be. I think Ben feels similarly. At this point in his life, he’s got the “dream job” and a steady girlfriend with his life is planned out ahead of him—yet he’s constantly plagued by a feeling of “is this it?” As a millennial, I feel that many members of my generation can relate.

Name your three favorite roles you’ve played and your three dream roles.

One of my favorite roles would have to be from a play written by a brilliant local playwright, Melissa Leilani Larsen, called “Martyr’s Crossing,” which tells the tale of Joan of Arc; I played a fictionalized version of the Earl of Warwick, who had a vicious vendetta against Joan and ended up burning her at the stake. Another favorite would have to be the male role in an experimental piece of theater written by BYU professor Eric Samuelson titled “Cough/Laugh,” with a storyline entirely dependent on triggers provided by the audience (coughing, laughing, clapping, etc.). If the entire audience had been completely silent the entire show, my character would have ended up sitting on a couch for an hour. Last favorite would have to be anything involving stunt/precision driving.

Dreams roles are John Buchanan Jr. from Tennessee Williams’ “Summer and Smoke”/“Eccentricities of a Nightingale,” Joe Pitt in “Angels in America” and Evan in “Dear Evan Hansen,” in that order.