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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Equal parts satire and sociology, this very deft play tilts and pivots, keeping an audience both laughing and emotionally off-guard. In presenting the play's Los Angeles premiere, the consistently high-class Rogue Machine Theatre has another winner. Gregg T. Daniel's production at the Met Theatre is not to be missed.
Kalleres creates a quintet of characters who are so pretzeled up in conundrums of racial correctness, there seems little hope of any escape for them. . . or any of us. Fortunately for the Honky folks at least, a researcher named Driscoll has engineered a pill designed to eliminate medically those inconvenient, intolerant impulses. The pill comes with some interesting side effects, but isn't the possibility of having a castigating Frederick Douglass in your kitchen worth the risk?
The playwright seems to think so and wow, do some of theHonky people need some heavy doses of Driscotol. Davis Tallison (played by Bruce Nozick), the president of the urban shoe company Sky Max, can barely put two sentences together without getting under someone's skin. Since Sky Max is being eyed by Nike for a possible acquisition, Davis's foot-in-mouth disease is problematic, and he'll need some sensitivity training. His subordinate, Thomas Hodge (Burl Moseley), a young, well-educated black man, must deal with the fact that black teens are shooting each other to acquire the shoes he designed. His sister, Emilia, (Inger Tudor), is a therapist who listens to people confessing all manner of guilt. She claims race plays no part in her work, but it kind of does.
The circle widens then tightens. Emilia's latest client, Peter Trammel (James Liebman), wrote the incendiary Sky Max commercial that has blacks and whites alike quite literally up in arms. Working through all kinds of guilt, Peter can't quite figure out whether to insult his therapist or fall in love with her. Then there's Peter's fiancee, Andie (Tasha Amos), a privileged US>-magazine-reading blonde whose obliviousness to Peter's racial angst ("Killing people for shoes. What is this, the ‘80s?") has him reconsidering the marriage. But in Kelleres's tricky universe, Andie may not be the dim bulb we expect her to be. All of the characters defy cultural expectations, including a couple of kids (Matthew Hancock and Christian Henley) who keep appearing on the subway in different incarnations during encounters with Davis, Peter, and Thomas.
Back in the early 2000s, Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx wrote a fairly ingenious song for the musical Avenue Q titled "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist." Honky accepts the premise of that song and one-ups it, effectively arguing that commercialism and racism are not only linked but potentially necessary bedfellows. Or maybe that's the argument of a person trying to prove he is not a racist. Kelleres leaves the question open, but where sensitive language is considered, clearly there's no cure-all pill.
Regardless, under Daniel's direction, Honky is crisp, deeply funny and splendidly acted. As Peter and Thomas, Liebman and Moseley shrewdly play out two different sides of the same set of neuroses. Both are comically gifted and convincing basket cases. Nozick steers Davis, the unapologetic company man, away from villainy. His arguments are weirdly and unapologetically compelling, and you have no difficulty believing the man could sell a bunch of shoes.
Facing the effects of both Peter's neuroses and the effects of the drug Driscotol, Tudor's Emilia displays some remarkable composure. How she keeps herself from throwing Peter out of her office during their first scene together is a feat. Hancock and Henley do some seriously artful double duty as every stereotypical representatives of urban youth one could imagine. Hancock's depiction of a foul-mouthed, aesthetically finicky Douglass is a riot.
The play's shining star is Ames. Artless, vulnerable and possessed of great comic timing, the actress makes Andie Honky's unlikely heroine. In a world gone topsy-turvy, the person who can deftly shove all the "heavy stuff" aside may be the one who doesn't need Dirscotol after all. Imagine that.