It turns out a cure for racism has been found, and although not yet FDA-approved, you can find it at Subversive Theatre Collective from now until November 18th, but only on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm. That's when you should go see Honky. This black comedy is not by just any old playwright. Greg Kalleres also produces and writes commercials for Nike and Budweiser, among other national brands. He has first-hand knowledge of the inner workings of American marketing mavens, being as how he is one.
No wonder Honky is such a very clever, insightful, intelligent and painfully funny play. It skewers the cynical exploitation of black youth by a small independent sneaker manufacturer, Sky, that then turns around and uses the results to exploit the wealthier white suburban youth who are in thrall of the concept of “urban” chic. In other words, according to the company president, they “make shoes black kids kill over so white people buy them.” Hard to be more cynical than that.
The play is a series of short scenes that take place after the murder of a black youth by other black youths who then took his sneakers, Sky 16s. The murder and theft of the sneakers went viral on social media, which caused a huge demand for the sneakers by white suburban youth. The black sneaker designer confronts the white company president as he shows him the prototype for Sky 17s, and we are off and running.
Each character lives in his or her own private hell about racism, with the exception of Andie, played with clueless Valley-girl innocence by Bekki Sliwa, the upper-middle-class white girl who is impervious to the complexities of racism and the traps laid for everyone who tries to navigate its dangerous waters. No subtext for Andie. Her fiancée, Peter, the ad man who wrote the commercial for Sky 16s that has the tag line “S’up now,” comically stumbles over himself every time he or anyone else brings up race. Sean Marciniak plays Peter’s white guilt to the nth degree, tripping over his words, taking them back, unable to articulate them, screaming about the Congo, about which he admits he knows nothing, and generally tying himself in knots, particularly when talking to his therapist, the lovely, and yes, black Dr. Emilia Hodge. Shawnell Tillery is a marvel as the psychiatrist who sees mostly white clients and sits patiently and demurely with her notebook listening to the ravings of Peter, until…well, you’ll see. Her brother, Thomas Hodge, is the shoe designer who is in major conflict with himself and his boss as he comes to realize what his creation has wrought. Marcus Thompson, Jr. does a fine job embodying the anxiety, anger, frustration, and guilt of a black man who is not from the 'hood, is successful, feels guilty about his middle class upbringing, and perhaps jealous that he missed out on “real” black culture, while at the same time longing for just a regular conversation about regular things. His boss, Davis Tallison, played with great gusto by Jacob Sauer, is the embodiment of the beefy white corporate management cynic who uses any means he can, including the tragic death of his wife, to maximize sales and keep his position. The fine cast is rounded out by Lacheona Smith, in her first stage appearance, and Lamont Singletary, as two “urban” kids on the subway. And then there is the mysterious Dr. Driscoll, played by Gary Earl Ross. Frederick Douglass and Abe Lincoln also make an appearance.
Mr. Ross, Associate Artistic Director at Subversive, also directed this production. He keeps the fast-paced dialogue moving and the simple set allows for quick scene changes. Costumes are by Maureen Caputo, sound and video by Bob Van Valin, and lights by Kurt Schneiderman.
Honky is about race, class, commerce, culture, and the intricacies, pitfalls, absurdities, and dangers of ongoing racism in 21st century America. It is about well-meaning and not-so-well-meaning people struggling to find a way into the sun through that heavy dark cloud that hovers over all of us. It is hilarious and thought-provoking. Tallison says, “What does the black man, Thomas Hodge, have when all the dust is settled? Your history? Culture? No. Bought and sold years ago, just like ours.” A very sad commentary, but a very, very funny play. Oh, and speak to Dr. Driscoll about that cure.
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm through November 18, 2017