The Sole of Satire

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This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Okay, I'm not saying this will to happen to you during Rogue Machine's razor-sharp satire Honky, but here’s what happened to me.

I found myself nodding my head a little too vigorously to the hip hop track that underscores one of the scene changes: Tribe Called Quest with the Lou Reed hook? Yeah, college. So I’m into it when suddenly it hits me like a ton of bricks: "Oh shit, am I the Honky they're talking about? That’s cultural appropriation. Maybe I’m racist?”

What makes Honky such a biting comedy, is you might come to this same epiphany if you’re black or white or Asian or . . . whatever. Honky is out to make us all laugh and, maybe, think.

Greg Kalleres' play is ostensibly about a sneaker. The Skymax 16 basketball shoe to be exact. It's the hot, urban shoe. So hot that kids are killing one another just to get them.

This creates something of a crisis of conscience for our three protagonists. Thomas, who's black, designed the shoe; Peter, who's white, wrote the commercial that may have sparked the violence; and Davis, who’s also white, is president of the sneaker company. All three are on a troubled ride through their hearts about what it means to sell black culture to white America. Is this about marketing? Or racism?

As Davis says, "I don't give a shit if someone is black, Arab, Chinese, or Martian. All I care about is who's buying what, where they live and what they can afford. That's not racism, it's marketing. You wanna talk about stereotypes? We pay a premium for them. They're called demographics."

Like any good satire, that's both terribly funny and sadly true - and the play's just getting started.

While on the surface we're talking about shoes, the soul of the play, pun broadly intended, is really about cultural appropriation and racism. What does it mean to sell white suburban youth black culture? Who gets to own what? I know that hardly sounds like a fun evening in the theater but Honky manages to handle the territory with both insight and humor.

Just when you think you've got a grasp on where the plot is going, the play takes the next awkward step and implicates another party in this racist mess. By the time a hallucination of Fredrick Douglas appears eating risotto - you'll be convinced everyone’s culpable.

Rogue Machine's casting is spot on. The play is a delicate and dangerous dance with stereotype. In lesser hands, those stereotypes could become little more than two dimensional cutouts that might entertain without shedding any real light. Under Greg T. Daniel’s precise direction the wonderful cast manages to fulfill the script's needs without succumbing to them.

Go if you need a good laugh. Go if you want to think a little more carefully about race. “Just do it."

Honky plays at Rogue Machine Theater in Hollywood through July 17th.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Run time: 90 Minutes without an intermission

Photo: John Perrin Flynn