Los Angeles Theater Review: HONKY (Rogue Machine at the Met Theatre)

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by Frank Arthur on May 17, 2016

in Theater-Los Angeles


It’s such a weird time in America. From talk shows to a speech from President Obama, it’s clear that the racism remains a topical subject. But we don’t actually talk about it. Can a white person get a simple answer if they ask a black person, “Why can you say ‘nigger’ but I can’t?” There really are no clear answers, but it’s fodder that’s ripe to take place in the theater. Playwright Greg Kalleres, whose Honky is currently playing at Rogue Machine, doesn’t have any answers either. Oh, he has plenty of very funny insights into the thorny quagmire of racism, which keeps the viewer positively riveted for the first half of this 110-minute one-act, but interest is lost mid-point as Kalleres ends his play over and over and over. The repetition eventually causes ennui.

Tasha Ames Burl Moseley 1

Kalleres based his play on his experiences writing ad copy for sports corporations. Here, it’s a New York company called Sky Shoes, whose new, eye-searing neon sneakers have led to the robbery and murder of an African-American 14-year-old. What follows is white guilt (the copy writer), black guilt (the designer) and various self-questioning others. As the company tries to expand its demographic, complications, as they say, ensue. With all the unprintable, unspeakable, un-PC words in his play, you could joke that Kalleres is going where others fear to tread. His sketch-like scenes and the over-the-top dialogue which would offend just outside the theater serve to take the edge off of words that are normally taboo. It’s all a hoot, but these devices are not in service to a dramatic arc (there’s also a side story about the making of a drug called Driscotol that eradicates prejudice from the mind; Ron Bottitta is wonderfully droll as the sleazy inventor Dr. Driscoll).


Director Gregg T. Daniel’s fantastic cast has a field day on Stephanie Kerley Schwartz’ inventively morphing set. James Leibman plays a neurotically hyper white guy, Peter; Burl Moseley is the frustrated black designer, Thomas, who’s beating himself up for creating the “urban” (euphemism for inner-city African-American) shoes for a white executive, Davis (the equally excellent Bruce Nozick). Matthew Hancock and Christian Henley play are hysterical as a pair of tough black kids who confront and assault Peter and Thomas on the subway. Also in the mix are Peter’s therapist, Emilia (Inger Tudor), who is Thomas’ sister; and Peter’s fiancée, Andie (Tasha Ames).

Inger Tudor and James Liebman

I love that Kalleres is taking on the role of provocateur, hitting on our super-sensitive selves and digging through prickly truths about race and the evils of advertising, often with sparkling wit. It’s a shame the play ends up being about the issues and not the characters.

ChristianHenley BurlMoseley MatthewHancock

photos by John Perrin Flynn

Rogue Machine Theatre
MET Theatre,1089 N. Oxford Ave
Fri and Sat at 8:30; Sun at 3
ends on June 12, 2016
for tickets, call 855.585.5185 or visit Rogue Machine

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