There’s plenty of time left in the spring season, but we may have an early winner for the Most Enticing Premise Award. That venerable statuette goes to… oh the drama!… Honky, at Urban Stages. The show’s press material should explain its win: “When a black sneaker company hires a white CEO, their commercials begin glorifying the ghetto and sales triple among white teens. But when violence erupts in a black community, the shoe designer blames the ads and promises revenge.” Add an anti-racism pill to the mix (its street name is “bleach”) and you’ve got quite the setup.
The play’s themes echo those of other recent race plays like Clybourne Park and Luck of the Irish, but where those pieces trafficked in real estate, Honky goes after the world of advertising. Playwright Greg Kalleres’s perspective is authentic: Kalleres spent years working as a copywriter and witnessed firsthand the bizarre and hilarious depth of “white guilt,” as well as the awkward act of getting the “right” proportion of minorities represented. As he writes in the play, for advertisers it isn’t a question of race, it’s about demographics. (A friend of mine who works in advertising nodded along at that line, whispering, “it’s true!”)
Of course, theater is just as enmeshed as any other industry in the realm of sell sell sell. It takes advertising to put butts in seats. And what puts those butts in those seats? A good premise. A Most Enticing Premise.
photo by Ben Hider