Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
No one is immune from scrutiny in this fast-paced comedyboth white and black characters struggle with self-awareness and identity questions. When a black teenager is killed over his upscale, coveted sneakers, the shoe designer feels responsible, the ad man feels guilt, and the marketing mogul sees opportunity. Toss in a well-intentioned therapist, a status-seeking fiancee, a couple of "urban youth" types, and PC-conscious upper management, and complications abound. Civility and polite society crumble when confronted with the magnifying glass of racism.
A further complication involves a new drug that promises a cure for your racismpop the pill and you no longer "see color." Wishful thinking? Or generating more ills than it cures? The final scene leaves us pondering some hard questions, even while we're laughing.
The plot falters in act two, becoming convoluted and often not making much sense, but the issues raised overall are important. The confusing plot mirrors our collective confusion over the sometimes disturbing politics of identity, and points to the necessity for open discussion and dialogue.
A terrific cast does the script justice and knows how to bring out comedy while voicing serious themes. Mike Pavone and Trey G. Riley are standouts as the marketing mogul and shoe designer, respectively, and their scenes together crackle with energy, demonstrating the difficulty of navigating dialogue concerning race. Mark Bradbury, as the hapless, guilt-ridden ad man seeking absolution for his racism, hits many right notes in his bumbling, stammering attempts to talk with his therapist, who happens to be black. Liz Rogers-Beckley gives a spot-on performance as the therapist, educated, upscale and determined to "rise above" race. Lydia Revelos, as the clueless and embarrassing fiancee, starts the play very much as caricature, but transforms over time into a more believable individual, albeit one still grappling with her own ignorance.
Nick Christenson capably tackles many roles, including the politically correct board member of the sneakers company and a very drunk un-PC Abraham Lincoln. Julius Rea and Mike Rice fill various incarnations of anonymous black "urban youth""urban" being the shoe company's new PC-term for "ghetto." Thugs? maybe. Realistic or stereotypes? You decide. Rea also captures an amusing, foul-mouthed Frederick Douglass, upending any preconceptions.
Director Argo Thompson engineers the roller-coaster ride with fast pacing and good use of the stage for numerous locations. He's aided by his own scenic and sound designs, both effective and well-executed. Lighting by April George and costumes by Sandra Ish are handsome and appropriate, and projections by Jared Wright and Thompson add punch to the overall design. Kudos to properties designer Cecelia Hamilton-Lee for some great shoes.
Not necessarily the most comfortable, easy play to watch, with plot issues, but the excellent production brings it homeit's a satire for our time that will have you laughing and groaning, and hopefully contemplating the questions it raises regarding racism today.
Honky by Greg Kalleres, through July 1, 2018, by Left Edge Theatre at Studio Theater, Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, 50 Mark West Springs Rd., Santa Rosa CA. Tickets $25.00-$40.00 can be purchased online at www.leftedgetheatre.com or by phone at 707-546-3600.