Monday, February 10, 2014

Mirror Stage Company's "Honky" as provocative as it gets!



Mirror Stage Company just mounted another excellent play reading that provoked some great audience participation. Their Feed Your Mind play reading series has been doing that kind of thing for ten years now, and artistic director Suzanne Cohen's choices are terrific plays that usually present interesting and less-travelled-than roads of issues.

This time, the play was Honky by Greg Kalleres. More than almost any play I've experienced, this play went straight for the heart of racism, how we speak to each other, how we think of ourselves, and included advertising, as well. Kalleres' bio mentions his experience with writing and producing commercials for ESPN, Nike, Brand Jordan, and Budweiser. The play focuses on a company that makes basketball shoes, focusing on marketing to black teenagers, and on the marketing department folks who write the ads and create the buzz.

The play starts after a teen gets shot for his basketball shoes. The shooter apparently uses an advertising tagline. The white man who wrote the commercial, with a hip-hop tag line "'sup now?" is full of angst and remorse for his part in writing the ad and even goes so far as to try therapy to feel better.

A white executive in the play says, "When white kids shoot each other over these shoes, then we'll know we won." It's in reference to the company now focusing on widening their audience of purchasers to white teens who follow black teen culture to figure out what's hot and what they should emulate.

But Honky shoves in all kinds of other aspects of race, from the executive talking about "your people" to a black associate, to the black associate trying to figure out what's "black enough," to the white ad writer's calling his girlfriend "as white as you can get," to the white girlfriend's attraction to the associate in a random encounter at a bar, to the therapist of the ad writer turning out to be a) black and b) the sister of the associate... It's complicated, though not confusing during the reading.

As usual, a group of talented actors included Elena Flory-Barnes, Sara Coates, Tim Gouran, Carl Kennedy, James Lapan, Andrew Litzky, Corey Spruill and Tyler Trerise. For those who like to talk about the subject matter of a play they've just seen, FYM is particularly enjoyable for the diverse audience opinions shared.

This year's theme for Feed Your Mind is racism and the last reading was Race by David Mamet, which also zeroed in on aspects of racism in a current and challenging way. The next reading is April 5 and 6 (at the Ethnic Cultural Theatre in the University District) and is Detroit '67 by Dominique Morisseau.This play focuses on the riots that happened there in 1967, and includes the music of Motown and a sister and brother's after-hours music joint.

For information or tickets to Detroit '67, go here: http://www.mirrorstage.org/detroit67.