Directed by Kelsey Leigh Ervi
Assistant Director – DR Mann Hanson
Lighting Design – Ryan Flores
Sound Design – Kellen Voss
Video Design – Casey Barteau, Adam Henderson, and Kellen Voss
Stage Manager – Kristin Van Sickle
Calvin Roberts – Thomas Hodge
Alan Pollard – Davis Tallison
Ian Ferguson – Peter Trammel
Rebecca McDonald – Emilia Hodge
Whitney Holotik – Andie Chastain
Jeff Burleson – Dr. Driscoll/Others
Adam A. Anderson – Kid 1/Frederick Douglas
Lord Alfred Brown – Kid 2
Reviewed Performance 3/8/2014
Reviewed by Mary L. Clark, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The title alone makes anyone who utters it a racist, and is offense to white people - or should I say Caucasian. Black people, uh, African-Americans, use it and “their people” claim we’re racist when “our people” say n**ger!
If any of that makes you the least bit uncomfortable, well then, welcome to playwright Greg Kalleres’ mind and his play, Honky, WaterTower Theatre’s enlightening festival entry. No racial epithet goes unturned as Kalleres hits every un-politically correct word, phrase or racial remark there is, and hits them hard. His characters think and say everything each of us either recognizes, has thought, felt or said. The words are now so commonplace as to no longer hold any power. The Late Show’s Craig Ferguson calls his producer racist practically every night !
This dark comedy centers around an all-too-often advertising focus, that purchasing the newest item, the hottest thing will make you special and happy. A basketball shoe commercial glorifies gang violence in order to sell them to white teens. But then a black teenager is shot and killed for the same shoes. Who’s to blame, the commercial or the CEO that ok’d it to triple sales? And what about the shoe designer, the advertising writer, or parents who give in to media mass appeal?
The playwright also lampoons our obsession with psychoanalysis, the pharmaceutical world and America’s addiction for the next “perfect pill”, with the slogan, “If you don’t think you need it, you’re probably a racist!”
Director Kelsey Leigh Ervi keeps the pace lively and the many scene changes quick, using multi-use, roll-on furniture to accent seven different locations, including the CEO’s office, a psychiatrist’s office, two bedrooms, and the subway. The opening video ad shows two basketball players one-upping each other on the court, until one whips out his new “Sky Max” shoe like a gun. Back wall projections that only show the outside of the office buildings or brownstones make the locations sterile and distant, an interesting concept.
Kalleres uses heightened-reality dialogue to strike every racist stereotype: the highly racist, white and white-collared corporate man; the black artist “selling out to the man” with his designs; the overly sensitive and apologetic white man who struggles to be PC while offending just about everyone. There’s the side cap wearing, pants low-hanging “gangsta boys” we assume to be criminals by the way they look; the black, well-dressed men who rob the white man on the subway; and a professional black woman who cannot get past her hatred of whites in order to help her patients. Finally, there is the young, white woman who has absolutely no filter when it comes to speaking the truth about racism, and that everyone, everywhere, has some of it in them. Her words and observations are refreshing, unrealistic but refreshing to hear, especially onstage.
The eight actors in Honky take on these characters no holds barred. In order of appearance, Calvin Roberts is Thomas Hodge, the shoe designer desiring notoriety, and the money, but conflicted about the boy’s death, and that he is becoming an Uncle Tom to the every company that might have instigated it. Roberts plays both sides very well, inner turmoil showing on his face and in his voice, as the black man “his people” call “whitey”, and his hatred for “the man”, this time played by Alan Pollard.
Pollard is Davis Tallison, the slimeball CEO that fairly drips bigotry and racism. His facial expressions while scheming a new deal with Roberts is priceless. When Tallison tries to conform via an anti-racist drug, Pollard takes Tallison to the other extreme, first as a believable drunkard, then as a crazed and enthusiastic corporate pill pusher.
Writer of the damning commercial, guilt-ridden Peter Trammel finds himself on the psychiatrist’s couch. Ian Ferguson’s comedic portrayal of this white man’s angst and continual “racial” blunderings is marvelous. His fast-paced dialogue, fumbling and tumbling over his sentences, is an astounding display of memorized lines! Amongst all his apologies to his black, woman psychiatrist is the great, “I could be a racist! You see, that’s what makes America great. We can be anything we want . . . “ !
Emilia Hodge, Thomas’ sister, is an uptight, doctor with little patience for the white people who seek her knowledge. As Emilia, Rebecca McDonald’s face barely controls her rage toward listening to yet one more pathetic white person. I hope I’m right when I say her character has one of the central theme lines of the play, “Let’s leave the Race word out of it . . . it’s their word, we can’t say it”. McDonald keeps Emilia under such control it is a shock to see her suddenly straddle Trammel in one of the last scenes, a shockingly funny image to be sure!
Whitney Holotik plays the truth-spewing woman, and fiancée to Trammel, Andie Chastain. Her easy-going demeanor is totally opposite the others; Chastain cuts through all the PC and racist bull, and Holotik does a magnificent job playing her lightly, rather than as a lecturer. Another great line is hers, when Trammel moans we should be concerned with all the pain and suffering in the world, she retorts, “Just because you went to public school, you’re not Nelson Mandela” – perfect. I really like her scenes with Calvin as she takes the piss out of him each time he tries to play the R card. If only we dared that more often . . . .
Jeff Burleson is literally the “Everyman” of the play, being the nerdy corporate employee attempting to warn Tallison that his racism is too extreme. He then comes back as Dr. Driscoll, the pill man with claims to end racism, and a TV reporter. His best role is Abe Lincoln as hallucination, appearing to Emilia after she takes the magic pill in order to erase “hatred, anger, righteous, and indignation”. Burleson’s Lincoln is a hoot, using a higher-pitched voice (as did Daniel Day Lewis) while spewing urban, slang phrases due to Emilia’s visions. His is another highlight character.
The characterizations created by Adam A. Anderson as subway Kid 1 and Lord Alfred Brown as Kid 2 travel from the top of their heads to the bottoms of their big, colorful, high top shoes. They stay in the moment, swag-walking all the way offstage, and even high fiving after changing scene furniture. As the Kids, both “urban” and “collegiate”, they are an integral part of the play, and the funniest of all the characters.
The best character in the play though, and the most surprisingly hilarious, is Adamson’s hip, African American social reformer, Frederick Douglass, complete with white-streaked afro and diamond ear stud. A part of Tallison’s drug hallucinations, Douglass is quite proficient in street language, and Adamson takes this character for all he’s got – jiving and playin’ whitey to the max – a hilarious vision and an inspired performance.
Honky takes on racism through the eyes of these eight people as they swim through a sometimes too realistic world. WaterTower Theatre is not afraid of offending and takes Kallares’ piece at its word and to the core. We laugh at the obscurity of the situations and characters, but deep down, the words hit their target and leave audience’s to lick their wounds and reflect.
Final performances on Wednesday, March 12th at 7:30 pm, Friday, March 14th at 9:00 pm, and Saturday, March 15th at 5:00 pm