by: Sandi Durell

“If you think you don’t need it – you’re probably a racist.” This dark comedy, at Urban Stages, is a true to life reckoning with the worlds of media, marketing and inverse sales techniques that encourage black kids to buy items so as to make them indispensable to white kids who wanna be black.

When a pair of multi-colored “Sky Max” basketball sneakers becomes the rage, it also enrages in the African American community when a teen is murdered for them. It’s all done through the clever tactics of using white guilt, so says Davis (Philip Callen), a white ad exec whose job it is to sell the sneakers to Nike and create the aura. When Thomas (Anthony Gaskins), the designer of these sneakers, who is black, comes calling on Davis about the recent incident, there are racial faux pas that slip out here and there from both. Davis keeps saying “I grew up in Chicago” attempting to explain to Thomas the psychology behind sales; that first the black kids must accept a product before the white kids want it.

The scenes shift on the simply, but cleverly, designed set (Roman Tatarowicz) of sliding screens, used for projections (Caite Hevner), and minimal scenery that is carried on and off; – – an office of a black therapist Emilia (Arie Bianca Thompson) whose practice is all white people (she is also sister to Thomas) – and wants to remain colorblind – as Peter (Dave Droxler) who wrote the commercial for Sky Max, seeks redemption from guilt, showing her his integrated multi-colored socks and saying he’s marrying someone who is not a racist. Shift again as Thomas and Amelia discuss the situation, the lines of funny and racist dialogue flowing.

Peter is engaged to lily white Andie (Danielle Faitelson) a typical princess type who hasn’t a clue that her very being is inhabited in racism. He is concerned with world affairs, she with the wedding list she is preparing. Scenes change to Davis, then Peter, then Thomas in various situations (train, park bench) being accosted by black teens – Chris Myers and Reynaldo Piniella – exhibiting bad behavior either stealing or selling drugs.

Meanwhile, Andie meets Thomas at a Sky Max event and, in spite of all the inbred racism and inability to control her diarrhea of the mouth, Thomas is attracted to her as she makes a play for him and they proceed to have an affair. In between, you’ve got the ghosts of Frederick Douglas and Abe Lincoln speaking expletives you wouldn’t believe they ever knew, throwing the guilt.

Peter, tired of apologizing for his race and feeling guilty, makes a play for Dr. Amelia who feeds him a race pill. Thanks to Dr. Driscoll (Scott Barrow) who has found the answer – a pill to rid the world of racial bigotry. The pill is only 2nd to Viagra! The bottom line: everyone is racist. Maybe if we see enough humor in it all, we can rid ourselves of the disease.

The play is written by a very gifted Greg Kalleres and guided by the structured hand of director Luke Harlan whose job was made easier with the well-cast group of actors. It’s a piece that will make you laugh and think.
*Photo: Ben Hider
“Honky”  Urban Stages, West 22nd Street, NYC
212 421-1380, www.urbanstages.org