Directed by Luke Harlan
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
“Unless you are honest with yourself, you cannot be honest with the people who love you.”
Sigmund Freud would have loved “Honky,” Greg Kalleres’s new play running at Urban Stages through April 14th. This play is chock full of repression, transference, hysteria, projection, and it makes people laugh. Freud loved humor and posited in his 1905 “Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious” that humankind tells jokes about and laughs about things about which it is uncomfortable. Perhaps the top three things which make us uncomfortable are the power vectors race, sex, and money. “Honkey” bravely tackles these issues with humor, grace, and style.
Sky Shoes executive Davis (Philip Callen) wants to expand the market of shoe designer Thomas’s (Anthony Gaskins) sneaker from the successful all-urban (AKA black) market to the wannabe white retail market. Philip does not really like the look of the sneaker but he likes the money it makes for his company. The conversation between executive and designer uncovers the mother lode of repressed racism. This conversation is counterpointed in those between Peter (Dave Droxler) and his fiancé Andie (Danielle Faitelson) and between Thomas and Emilia (Arie Bianca Thompson) and these conversations, though, humorous, contain deeper meaning.
Beneath (or embedded in) the humor are truths demanding attention and action. Racism in America (and elsewhere) persists in being pandemic and a dangerous impediment to celebrating true equality for all Americans. The playwright’s suggestion that Dr. Driscoll’s (Scott Barrow) pill that eradicates racism is effective because it “replicates brain damage” is telling. In other words, racism is not only pandemic; it might be immune to reason.
At the core, however, is the issue of honesty, particularly the individual’s ability to be honest about his or her racist feelings. In “Honky,” the Sky Shoes new sneaker is an effective trope (here an extended metaphor) for the issue of racism and honesty about the characters’ authentic feelings.
At the play’s beginning, Davis asks Thomas if he would wear the sneaker he designed and has become the object of controversy and a murder. After successfully revealing his authentic feelings about race and relationships with Andie, Thomas places the sneakers on his feet and symbolically claims both his identity and his honest feelings about that identity. It is only after claiming and celebrating his identity that he can return to Andie and begin an authentic interracial relationship.
There are three important scenes which take place in a subway car which feature impressively staged dream ballets (“danced” beautifully by Kid 1 and Kid 2 played by Chris Myers and Reynaldo Piniella respectively) which serve as metaphors for the particular character’s (Davis, Peter, and finally Thomas) conflict with and resolution about racism. Significant, too, are the scenes including visits from Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas which equally powerfully confront characters with deep questions about racism.
Under Luke Harlan’s careful direction, the ensemble cast of “Honky” skillfully utilizes humor to handily tackle the important issues of racism and honesty and extends the conversation about racism to the important theatre audience.