“Honky” Play Review San Diego Repertory Theater
Ferguson Missouri is still smouldering in unrest as a few media pundits point to Chicago’s African American youth violence statistics to propose the old look at all African American males as deficient men branch of Cultural Deficiency theory. Most of these “experts” are unfamiliar with Black community based protest against and efforts to decrease Black on Black gang violence in Chicago and often invisabalize community efforts in order to make an inflammatory inference.
With eyes on Ferguson Missouri again, this week, CNN newscasts reported a 50% increase of gun sales1 and Ferguson police and citizens are gearing up for violence. African Americans and Euro-Americans of like mind who witnessed atrocities in the 1960s are praying for peaceful expressions of socio-political frustration.
In the light of these current events and a very bitter memory of Trayvon Martin’s death that resonates with so many youth of all races, playwright Greg Kalleres has dared to unleash his work, “Honky” onto the American theater scene.
What is the definition of racism? What is Blackness? What is Whiteness?
Why can’t Whites use the words “Nigger, Niggah, openly? Many Blacks call each other Niggah in public, in films, and on television shows.
Why can’t Black people use the word Redneck, Cracker openly? Many Whites call each other Redneck and Cracker in public, in films, and on television shows.
Historically, many of these negative terms were used by both races in private. However due to Jim Crow, and due to other complex racial realities of power, Whites derogatorily used Nigger to refer to Blacks in public with impunity: The term in during the 1960s has was re-claimed.2 Now it is has been transformed and used by some in the Black underclass and by some in the Hip Hop culture. Whites not informed of the words history don’t comprehend why certain of their race are not allowed to reclaim it.3 (That is a topic for another day).
The San Diego Rep has had many phone calls complaining about the show’s title. http://www.sdrep.org/ NOTE: MOST BLACKS DO NOT CALL WHITE PEOPLE HONKY—-THAT IS SOOOOOOO 60s!) In a short conversation with Playwright Kalleres we both laughed….that is part of the play’s insider jokes.
Honky’s premise is simple like Langston Hughes Jessie Simple. What is yo’
Imagine a world in which youth shoes are mass produced for urban youth (code for Black inner city underclass). One shoe–many admirers. The shoe becomes popular in Black “blue” collar, middle and upper class youth. Then, a young African American male is killed for his tennis shoes. Sound familiar?
Kalleres uses this fact based American cultural event to unravel the lives of his characters in “Honky.”
Actor Gerard Joseph painfully unfolds Thomas, a 21st century Black Hip Hop generation designer whose character will probably irritate emerging Afro-futurist males.
Tanya Alexander as Emilia reveals some of the conflicted realities of being a psychologist, an educated African American Black woman plagued with 21st century problematic exoticization by White males-a nightmare reality of many professional Black women’s daily angst.
Francis Gercke’s guilt ridden save the world bleeding liberal character, Peter, will clash against quite a few Caucasian audience nerves. His character’s awkward cultural ignorance is close to what many Blacks have to deal with on a daily basis.
Jacque Wilke’s character Andie will have playgoers squirming, laughing out loud, and at times snickering in “poor chil’, she don’t even know what she sayin’ ” recognition.
James Newcomb in the role of Davis, a marketing executive, infuses the character with a Samuel R. Delaney eeriness that slithers through the show. Davis embraces and obscures professional market culture’s dark side, when job becomes man and humanity is an ultimate consumer commodity to shape, buy, and sell.
Jacob Bruce as Dr. Driscoll represents a sinister American pop culture mindset, unleashed onto an unsuspecting populace who is “sleepwalking” their reality into a media driven hyper-real simulacrum of life.
Lastlv, two brilliant young actors Deleon Dallas and Cortez L. Johnson serve as Greek chorus morphed into a conflation of urban youth stereotypes that parade in America’s racial subconscious.
“Honky” speaks to the 21st century African American dilemma what Todd Boyd states in Am I Black Enough For You? Popular Culture From The ‘Hood and Beyond4.
Contemporary society has allowed the limited participation of African Americans in mainstream culture so long as it remains profitable to certain corporate interests. On the other hand, many African American performers and producers openly embrace this most recent form of “exploitation” so long as it provides them with the material possessions that make them more comfortable in an otherwise uncomfortable racist world.66
The play also echoes a need for re-examination of the “Post-racism” paradigm by author Tim Wise:
Playwright Kalleres raises specters of historical figures who hold a place in the pantheon of idolized Civil Rights icons. The play has some aspects that signify on stereotypes and the eventual relationship between Thomas and Andie is almost predictable. The end of the play is macabre, cautionary. However, that is all I will reveal.
Be prepared. This play was written to promote dialogue, acknowledge our accomplishments to eliminate some racism and bigotry, but to continue to create solutions on a deep level to truly get beyond stereotypes, prejudice, guilt, ignorance, and denial of American racial problems.
Based on the premiere I attended . . . this show is a hit!
America may have an Edward Albee in the making. We should look for more works to come from the young playwright Greg Kalleres.
1. CNN, November 11th newscast.
2. See Amira Baraka’s writings. Also comedians like Richard Pryor
3. For my brief music related coverage of the word see: https://sonictapestry.wordpress.com/the-vince–meades–collection/
4. Boyd, Todd, “Cash Rules Everything Around Me” Am I Black Enough For You? Popular Culture From The ‘Hood and Beyond (Indiana University Press, 1997), 66.