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Ophelia’s Jump takes race, basketball shoes to the stage

Get ready to laugh—and possibly cringe a little—as Ophelia’s Jump puts on a play about things you’re not supposed to talk about.

The local theater company will present Honky, “a darkly comedic look at advertising, race, romance and basketball shoes,” from November 27 to December 5.

The troupe, which is in the midst of a campaign to fund a theater of its own, will perform the play at the Theatre Company Performing Arts Studio in Upland.

Footwear is at the center of Greg Kalleres’ edgy satire, which made its off-Broadway debut in 2013.

It all starts when a black teen is killed for his “Sky Max 16” basketball shoes. With this kind of street cred, sales of the shoes explode among white teens. That news is music to the ears of Sky Shoes CEO Davis Tallison (Ken Knight), who hopes to expand the company’s reach beyond its traditional “urban youth” market.

Davis, who is white, is blithe about the strategy of “selling the ghetto,” but other characters feel more conflicted.

Thomas (Judd Johnson), the black designer of the Sky Max 16, is furious that the company he loves is being whitewashed. He also vows to take revenge on the ad wizard who came up with the commercial that presaged the shooting, a gang-glorifying promo featuring the pugnacious tagline “S’up?”

Peter (Aaron McGee), the man who wrote the ad, feels responsible for the murder. When he heads to a therapist to deal with his white guilt, he’s disarmed to find out she’s black.

The therapist, Emilia (Jocline Mixson)—who just happens to be Thomas’ sister—has her own issues. Tired of her white clients’ never-ending parade of “first-world problems,” she has begun taking a new drug called Driscotol, intended to cure racism. The drug’s tagline is a Catch 22-like exercise in marketing genius: “If you don’t think you need it, you’re probably a racist!”

Like most medications, Driscotol carries a few side effects, not least of them being hallucinations. Emilia has begun having conversations with a hard-drinking Abraham Lincoln. Under pressure from colleagues who accuse him of racial insensitivity, Davis begins taking Driscotol too. Soon, he’s subject to visitations from a foul-mouthed Frederick Douglass.  

The one angst-free character is Peter’s fiancé Andie (Loralee Barlow), a girl with a good heart but without a politically correct filter. The plot thickens when, in a twist worthy of a Shakespearean comedy, chemistry heats up between Andie and Thomas and Peter and Emilia.

The Ophelia’s Jump production features a strong cast capable of mining the potentially incendiary material for laughs while providing food for thought.

Beatrice Casagran, co-founder of Ophelia’s Jump and theater director at Diamond Bar High School, is serving as director for the production. She chose to produce Honky because she likes the way it engenders dialogue “It enables people to speak about race without misunderstanding, and to talk about people’s lack of humor about it, which I think is unhealthy,” she said. “We all need to be human with each other. We need to laugh at the fact that we all have our little quirks, our ideas that are not based in fact.”

Dexter Rogers graduated from Tulane University after majoring in theater design and English. He moved to California last May and counts himself lucky to have discovered Ophelia’s Jump. He worked on the theater company’s summer production of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, and this fall began teaching stagecraft at Diamond Bar High.

He is assistant director for Honky, a play he considers to be important without taking itself too seriously. “I think it’s very timely,” he said. “There are a lot of racial issues going on in the country right now. This show lets people explore some of that in a way that stays away from the anger and the hate messages you see. It’s just a really funny show.”

Last week the COURIER stopped by the Diamond Bar High School Theatre and spoke to some of the cast members, who were in the thick of rehearsing the daring comedy.

Jordan C. Allen majored in psychology at Temple University, a field the actor says gives him insight when channeling a character. He is tackling two roles in Honky, the street-wise “Kid 1” and Frederick Douglass. “I’m having a blast,” he said. “The show is so irreverent, but it’s so relevant. It’s pushing a lot of buttons and I like that.”

What Ophelia’s Jump co-founder Randy Lopez likes is that way that the repertory company is becoming more established locally.

“Our audience has already proven that they will follow us to all these different venues,” he said. “At Village Venture, we saw that more and more people know about us. Even if they haven’t seen us, they know about what we’re doing.”

Performances of Honky are set for Fridays and Saturdays, November 27, November 28, December 4 and December 5 at 8 p.m. Additional shows will be held on Sunday, November 29 and Saturday, December 5 at 4 p.m. Theater-goers should note that the play contains strong language. Tickets are $25; $22 for students and seniors. For tickets and information, visit www.opheliasjump.org.

To support the campaign to fund a permanent theater, look for “Ophelia’s Jump Needs a Home!” on www.indiegogo.com. The online effort has already yielded more than $3,000.

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com

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