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BWW Review: HONKY Navigates the Murky Waters of Race, Rhetoric and Athletic Footwear

In our modern online age where effective marketing can boost sales in designated markets, what is the difference between racial marketing and targeted marketing? Is an effective marketer really a racist in disguise or just a clever strategist who knows how to make the most money for his company's product? Such are the issues addressed in the Los Angeles premiere of HONKY written by Greg Kalleres and directed by Gregg Daniel for Rogue Machine in their new home at the Met Theatre. Taking a satiric look at the symbiotic relationship between bigotry and commercialism, HONKY is a socially-relevant comedy about different people, white and black, navigating the murky waters of race, rhetoric and athletic footwear.

Moved to New York City from Chicago to boost athletic shoe sales with inner city youth, master marketer Davis Tallison (Bruce Nozick) has studied the urban market and knows what type of product design will boost sales - a racially motivated one.

Shoe designer Thomas Hodge (Burl Moseley) is an African-American ad executive who starts to wonder about Tallison's motives in filming an ad from which a product slogan becomes street vernacular promoting violence. But when a young African American is shot for a pair of new basketball shoes, sales triple among white teens - a reaction known by Tallison that if inner city kids kill each other over shoes, white suburbanites will want them thinking there must be something incredibly valuable about them.

But when it comes to light that just prior to firing the shot, the assailant used the ad slogan, its writer Peter Trammel (James Liebman) is sent into a physiatrist's office in an attempt to deal with his guilt at writing something that now promotes violent behavior. Are ghetto-glorifying commercials to blame for the violence, or are they just part of a smart, targeted marketing plan? And does that reflect racism rather than clever marketing?

Luckily, Dr. Driscoll (Ron Bottitta) has invented a new pill now for sale which guarantees to cure racism by taking away all pre-conceived notions of racial differences. As the story plays out, we learn that almost everyone is taking the pill, but somehow racism learns to raise its ugly head through the most cunning disguises. Peter's African-American shrink Emilia Hodge (Inger Tudor) brilliantly lets us see her struggle to treat her white clients with understanding, trying to convince herself they are just "people with problems" thanks to her new color-blindness created by Dr. Driscoll's magic pill. Leibman perfectly displays his discomfort in trying to speak correctly to his therapist without offending her racially, and these scenes prove to be the funniest and most satirical in the show.

Peter's fiancée Andie Chastain (Tasha Ames) is perfectly cast as the most totally white woman you will ever meet - a type of upper class New Englander that attended private Ivy League schools and speaks with the type of speech patterns and terminology guaranteed to anger almost everyone else. And in her bubble-headed world, she has no concept how others could possibility find fault in her truth-telling. The effects come to light when she meets and begins an affair with Thomas, their racial differences and pre-conceived notions challenged by almost every word or stereotypical phrase uttered. However, Andie is able to calm down both her fiancée and lover whenever either of them suffers a panic attack, a much-needed skill more effective than any of Driscoll's magic pills.

Between scenes, each of the characters rides the subway on their own and runs into two inner city kids, Matthew Hancock and Christian Henley, who literally dance up a storm. But they are street hustlers who transform themselves into just the type of kid anyone riding the train would feel comfortable enough to engage in conversation or perhaps know exactly how to push buttons to create an atmosphere of violence which allows them to steal from riders between stops. Their scenes are an interesting comment on how marketing influences society and how the races perceive each other with total distrust. Is this really what society has become? I guarantee you will leave the theater thinking about the ways in which advertising really is shaping the world in which we live - and not always for the better when it comes to what we think about other races.

HONKY performances run 95 minutes without an intermission, smoothly presented using rotating scenic elements designed by Stephanie Kerley Schwartz on which Nicholas E. Santiago's video and projection design creates well-recognized city and office environments. Producers John Perrin Flynn and Amanda Mauer certainly carry on Rogue Machine's ever-evolving style in which multimedia elements often become characters themselves.

Performances continue at 8:30pm Fridays and Saturdays, 3pm on Sundays through June 12, 2016 at MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90029. Tickets are $34.99. Reservations: 855-585-5185 or at www.roguemachinetheatre.com.

Twitter @RogueMachineLA, Instagram @RogueMachineTheatre and FB: https://www.facebook.com/RogueMachineTheatre

Photos by John Perrin Flynn


Burl Moseley and Bruce Nozick portray ad executives working together to sell athletic shoes to targeted urban teens.


Christian Henley, Burl Moseley, and Matthew Hancock meet on the subway and fight over his athletic shoes.


Tasha Ames and James Liebman


Ron Bottitta and Bruce Nozick


Tasha Ames and Burl Moseley


Inger Tudor and James Liebman


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From This Author Shari Barrett