by Jeff Tischler

Combine theater, sneakers, serious social dialogue and one former NBA first-round pick, and you have a recipe for one great evening. Last Wednesday, October 23 in New York, just a block away from the newly-transformed Madison Square Garden, at the Urban Stages Theatre, SLAM x KICKS Magazines sponsored an event featuring a performance of the award-nominated Off-Broadway smash, Honky.

The play, directed by Luke Harlan, and previously reviewed this past summer in KICKS #16, is a comedy (about serious subject matter) that takes place in the wake of a young boy having been killed for his new sneakers, the hottest on the market. The playwright, Greg Kalleres, modeled one of the central characters after his own real life experience, a guilt-ridden advertising copywriter whose slogans helped market, and create the deadly success of, the newest, hottest basketball shoes. But the focus, theme and message of this brilliant play relate to racism, dealt with from four unique perspectives from each of four different individuals whose lives are brought together by tragedy in the streets, and exploitation in the corporate boardroom.

Enjoyed by an audience that was diverse both racially and generationally, filled with fans of theater, sneakers and basketball, the special performance was immediately followed by a lively panel discussion, moderated by SLAM’s own frequent contributor, Dr. L.A. Gabay. The panelists included Mr. Kalleres, SLAM Editor Ben Osborne, and former Syracuse University and New York Knick standout John Wallace. Wallace, whose successful career also took him to Toronto, Detroit, Phoenix and Miami, had a very lucrative endorsement deal to promote Karl Kani basketball shoes, and spoke almost nostalgically about the days when his size 17’s were walking (and skying!) billboards for the Karl Kani brand, and what a promotional contract meant to a young player from a financial and business experience standpoint. Having also played professional ball in Europe, Wallace shared some insights about how the perks that were taken for granted in the NBA, including access to new shoes, were just “not the same” across the pond, though “the food was great.”

Perhaps the highlight of the evening was the Question & Answer session. With the panelists joined on stage by most of the cast, Dr. Gabay craftily interspersed questions from the audience with his own discussion points, and deftly navigated the group through some spirited interactive discussions, including a racism-based marketing dialogue that was impassioned yet respectful. That this conversation took place was exactly what the playwright was hoping to achieve, and that is the hallmark of a great play.

Honky, the latest production brought to Urban Stages Theatre (259 West 30th St.) by its renowned artistic director, Frances Hill, is running through November 17. If you are a fan of basketball, sneakers, or if you’d just like to enjoy 90 minutes of thought-provoking yet comedic theater, please visit urbanstages.org/honky for tickets and go see the show!

Photos by Elizabeth Rogers.