Honky Review - Sticks and Stones May Break Some Bones, But Words...?

Playwright Greg Kalleres has focused a brilliant light upon the hot potato topics of racism and commercialism in America’s current culture. He creates an uproariously funny play called HONKY, now making its Los Angeles debut at Rogue Machine. The politically correct merges, and clashes, with the politically incorrect resulting in laughter ranging from stifled chuckles to genuine outbursts of glee. The ethnically diverse audience seemed vastly amused, while perhaps feeling pangs of guilt for enjoying the discomfort these characters experience when navigating the troubled waters of today’s racist rhetoric. There are no holds barred throughout this satire on the manners of today. Nothing is sacred in the HONKY world as it pokes equal opportunity fun at the way people – black and white – tap dance around subjects like race, sex, social class, ambition, advertising, and even therapy. Has the American dream become a congenital affectation?


Matthew Hancock - Photo by John Perrin Flynn

Black (or is African American more acceptable?) Thomas Hodge (played skillfully by Burl Moseley) has been raised far from the ghetto, trapped between the worlds of black and white. He now works for *Sky* shoes, which produces the most popular sneakers in the African American community. In fact, as a child, he dreamed of owning a pair of those sneakers just so he could stare at them in awe close-up. Now he has his ideal job: hired by *Sky* to design shoes for the urban youth market.


Burl Moseley and Bruce Nozick - Photo by John Perrin Flynn

Meanwhile, the guilt-ridden white Peter Trammel, deftly portrayed by James Liebman, works in the *Sky* advertising department writing copy for television. One of his commercials for the new *Sky* Max 16 shoe scripts the “Badass Announcer” touting two black homies while they’re shooting hoops and aiming their sneakers at each other like “weapons” of a sort. “Reach for the sky” with “S’up Now” are the tag lines as they triumphantly hold up their shoes. Business as usual until a young black kid is killed and his *Sky* footwear is missing. A witness says he heard the shooter say “S’up now.” Leave it to *Sky* CEO Davis Tallison (the talented Bruce Nozick) to turn tragedy into profit. When he discovers *Sky* sneaker sales have *Sky* rocketed among white teenagers after the murder, he focuses on selling to young white kids by encouraging their attempts to emulate black gang-bangers. He tries to act blacker than his black colleagues - until his job is threatened because of his peculiar, and politically incorrect, behavior.


Tasha Ames and Burl Moseley - Photo by John Perrin Flynn

HONKY turns stereotyping on its ear as author Kalleres peppers his play with racial epithets mixed with seemingly innocuous terms used as cover-ups for what they really mean. In their comical efforts to avoid being racist, every character becomes his own worst nightmare - a racist - sooner or later. Is there no way to avoid this trap? HONKY posits one solution, but you’ll have to see the play to find out what that is. This is a thought-provoking piece - between laughs, of course. It is hilarious - all the more so because it pokes fun at ideas which are usually not open to discussion or dissection in polite society. HONKY often leaves the audience squirming, sometimes gasping, as it treads a fine line between insensitivity and insight. This is a must-see production which is entertaining and fun while encouraging thought and reflection. It’s a comical and clever examination of this racial quagmire we’ve gotten ourselves into, but it doesn’t try to solve it for us.


Inger Tudor and James Liebman - Photo by John Perrin Flynn

This superbly talented ensemble knows how to strike the right note of awkwardness, discomfort, anger, and honesty. Even cameos from Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas can’t resolve the racial tensions that have existed for years. Director Gregg T. Daniel “gets it;” and he encourages cast members Tasha Ames, Ron Bottitta, Matthew Hancock, Christian Henley, James Liebman, Burl Moseley, Bruce Nozick, and Inger Tudor to let their own honest but false steps become the basis for the humor in the play.


Scenic Designer Stephanie Kerley Schwartz and Playwright Greg Kalleres at the After-Party - Photo by Elaine L. Mura

Stephanie Kerley Schwartz’s scenic design brilliantly incorporates the multiple scenes by using sliding walls and well-placed bits of “floating” furniture. It is a true pièce de résistance. Everyone on this production team has worked together to create a viable, creative, and interesting place for the action to occur.


HONKY runs through June 12, 2016, with performances at 8:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 3 p.m. on Sundays. The Rogue Machine performs upstairs at the Met Theater, 1089 N. Oxford Avenue, Los Angeles, CA. Tickets are $34.99. For information and reservations, call 855-585-5185 or go online at www.roguemachinetheatre.com.

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