“Everyone’s a little bit racist” sing the puppets in the musical Avenue Q. Playwright Greg Kalleres takes that thought and runs with it in Honky, running now at Left Edge Theatre.
It opens up with a commercial for Skymax 16’s, the latest craze in athletic footwear. It ends with the tag line “S’up now?” which we soon learn is the last thing said to a black teen before he’s killed for the shoes.
Lights up on the office of Davis Tallison (Mike Pavone), the white president of a company that makes footwear “by black people for black people.” Thomas Hodge (Trey G. Riley) is there to unveil his latest design and is aghast to learn that sales of the 16’s have exploded in the white youth community since the shooting. Tallison announces the new 17’s will now be marketed to them. Hodge is furious that something he created for “his people” has become bastardized and seeks some sort of retribution on the creator of the commercial he thinks is responsible.
Enter Peter Trammel (Mark Bradbury), whose issues about the commercial’s impact have led him to a therapist (Liz Rogers-Beckley) with her own issues. In a coincidence that only occurs to writers, she happens to be Hodge’s sister. Credulity is further strained when Hodge runs into Peter’s fiancé (Lydia Revelos) and sees a way for some payback, but credulity really shouldn’t be an issue in a play with a sublot involving a new pharmaceutical cure for racism whose side effects lead to visions of a lusty Abraham Lincoln (Nick Christenson) and a foul-mouthed Frederick Douglass (Julius Rea).
Part absurdist farce and part blistering social commentary, Honky will make you laugh and uncomfortable. More about racial identity than racism, the feelings of being “too white” or “not black enough” are deftly combined with swipes at our consumerist society where discrimination is masked as “marketing” and stereotypes are just “demographics”.
Director Argo Thompson has a terrific cast with California-newcomer Riley outstanding as the conflicted Hodge. His opening scene with veteran Pavone crackles and sets the tone for the duration. Excellent work is done by all with an extra shout out to Rea and Jim Kaskey for their work as a variety of ‘urban’ youth the other characters encounter.
Funny, infuriating, profane and profound, shows like Honky don’t play on wine country stages that often. Catch it while you can.
Rating (out of 5): ★★★★
‘Honky’ runs through July 1 at Left Edge Theatre. 50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa. Friday–Saturday, 8pm; Sunday, 2pm. $25–$40. 707.546.3600. leftedgetheatre.com
Photos by Katie Kelley