Greg Kalleres’ Honky is a biting satiric comedy of what-if’s. What if people – black or white – spoke with absolutely no filters as regards racial sensitivity or political correctness? What if there was a “race pill” – let’s call it Driscotol after its inventor, a Dr. Driscoll – that when taken removed all prejudice based on color of skin. Farfetched as these what-if’s may be, they add up to 100 minutes of guilty laughter at the San Diego Repertory Theatre, which is presenting the West Coast premiere of Kalleres’ one-act play. It’s guilty laughter because you can’t believe you’re chortling over characters spouting with such cavalier lack of restraint the most racist things you can imagine. Archie Bunker would be out of his league among this group.
But of course the mission of Honky is to stir thoughtful post-curtain conversation about race and racism in America. The premise of the play, in fact, is a serious one: A sneaker company’s ad campaign for a shoe aimed at “urban” young men has led to a murder on the streets over said shoe. This throws into turmoil the lives of the African-American shoe designer (Gerard Joseph), the white ad man who created the commercial (Francis Gercke) and the very white owner of the shoe company (James Newcomb). Complicating matters – and fueling the show’s overdone fantasy side – are cameos by Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.
It all unfolds in quick, high-pitched scenes in the Rep’s Lyceum Space, with screen projections of New York City interchanging behind them. Honky makes so many points about
race, tolerance and intolerance, and they come so fast and furiously, that your head is apt to be spinning even as the nervous laughter bubbles inside you.
Director Sam Woodhouse’s cast of eight has no shortage of energy. Funniest is Jaque Wilke as Andie, a charmingly artless woman who will say whatever is on her mind, damn the consequences. Joseph, as the shoe designer Thomas, has the most serious role and the inevitable moment of clarity at the end. That Andie and Thomas hook up is Honky’s delicious irony.
If you’re the hypersensitive type, this play is not for you. If your funny bone and conscience can operate at the same time, then it sure is.
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.