The Talk is a one-man (20-or-so-character) show, written and performed by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill graduate student Sonny Kelly and directed by UNC artist-in-residence Joseph Megel, and co-produced the StreetSigns Center for Literature and Performance and the Bull Dog Ensemble Theater, in association with the UNC Department of Communication. Playing two more weekends (through Feb. 10th) at The Fruit (Durham Fruit and Produce Co.) in Durham and Feb. 14-17 in UNC’s Historic Playmakers’ Theatre, it deals with “the difficult conversation a father must have with his son in a racialized America.” As audience members, we quickly became part of the conversation, a conversation that is highly informative and thought-provoking, without becoming overly didactic. More importantly, however, the gravity of the subject matter does not rob the show of its entertainment value.
Sonny Kelly is nothing short of amazing as he alternates between speaking directly to the audience (often soliciting and evoking response) and conducting conversations among his various characters onstage. Donning a pair of sunglasses, Kelly becomes a police officer. With a pair of 1950s “women’s glasses,” he becomes his own grandmother. Adding a baseball cap, he is a different person-from-his-past. And so on. Modulations in his voice and changes in both body-language and facial expression also serve to signify different characters (most of whom are delightfully endearing). And there is a magic in the way that Kelly manages to make us feel his connection to several of these characters.
The script has a recurring motif: Kelly himself sitting in the driver’s seat of a car, with his hands on the steering wheel — “ten o’clock, two o’clock” — (remember that phrase). This is the posture in which Kelly had found himself, dropping his son off at school, when a radio news report of the 2015 “Baltimore riots” prompted his son to ask a question that served to “open a can of worms” in Kelly’s mind, leading first to “the talk” with his son and eventually to this poignant piece of theater.
The set, designed by Rob Hamilton, is surprisingly versatile. Prior to show time, it seemed to define a mere three separate acting areas. However, aided by shifts and shadings of the lighting (designed by Elizabeth Grimes Droessler), Hamilton’s set affords Kelly with a plethora of locations. A few very nice touches are worth noting: the “fractured” flooring that helps define two distinct interiors and the placement of one chalkboard and two projection screens upstage. Speaking of projections: we also tip our hats to Zavier A.L. Taylor for thoroughness, appropriateness, and versatility — ’nuff said!
Stacks of books (courtesy of costume and property designer Lakeisha Coffey) appear in various places on the set, and Kelly “reads” from several of them as he invokes the likes of W.E.B. DuBois, Langston Hughes, Malcolm X, The Bible, Julian Shakespeare Carr, Barack Obama, and many more. Names such as Emmett Till, Trayvon Martin, and Rodney King, not surprisingly, find their way into this conversation. Kelly tells us that “The truth can be uncomfortable,” but he continues by quoting The Bible: “The truth will set you free.”
The top-of-the-show song, “Brown Baby” (possibly Nina Simone?), poignantly sets the mood, and an post-show discussion with Kelly tops off a very rewarding evening.
From the Department of Picky-Picky: As we left the theater feeling enriched, enlightened, and inspired, we found ourselves fearing that the audience that most desperately needs to participate in this conversation will not be attracted to attend.
NOTE: Sonny Kelly is a Ph.D. candidate in Communication and Performance at UNC. He is the recipient of multiple awards for scholarship and teaching.
SECOND OPINION: Jan. 30th Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Kenrick Cai: https://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/article225104120.html; Jan. 27th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Alan R. Hall: https://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=9255; Jan. 23rd Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: https://indyweek.com/events/sonny-kelly-the-talk/; Jan. 9th Durham, NC Duke Chronicle (student newspaper) preview by Nina Wilder: https://www.dukechronicle.com/article/2019/01/the-talk-brings-the-discussion-surrounding-police-brutality-to-the-stage; and Jan. 9th Hillsborough, NC WHUP/104.7 FM interview with playwright Sonny Kelly, conducted by Wayne Leonard for “Lights Up!”: https://whupfm.org/episode/lights-up-1-9-19-permanent-archive/ (starts at the 45:30 minute mark).
The Street Signs Center for Literature and Performance and Bull Dog Ensemble Theater, in association with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Department of Communication, presents THE TALK, a world premiere written and performed by Sonny Kelly and directed by Joseph Megel, at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 31, 8 p.m. Feb. 1 and 2, 2 p.m. Feb. 3, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 7, 8 p.m. Feb. 8 and 9, and 2 p.m. Feb. 10 at The Fruit (Durham Fruit and Produce Co.), 305 S. Dillard St., Durham, North Carolina 27701; and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 14, 8 p.m. Feb. 15 and 16, and 2 p.m. Feb. 17 in Historic Playmakers Theatre, 122 E. Cameron Ave., Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27514, on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus.
TICKETS: $15 Thursday and $20 Friday-Saturday, with $2 discounts for seniors, active-duty military personnel, and veterans; $10 tickets for adults under 35 for all shows; and $10 tickets for UNC students, faculty, and staff for the Chapel Hill shows.
BOX OFFICE: https://app.arts-people.com/index.php?ticketing=bet.
GROUP RATES: email@example.com.
VIDEO PREVIEW: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3t1uxPkyjSk.
Street Signs Center for Literature and Performance: https://www.piedmontperformancefactory.org/streetsigns, https://www.facebook.com/streetsignscenter/, and https://twitter.com/streetsignsctr.
Historic Playmakers Theatre: https://www.carolinaperformingarts.org/ros_venue/historic-playmakers-theatre/, and https://www.facebook.com/pages/Historic-Playmakers-Theatre/365898173502001, and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Playmakers_Theatre (directions: https://www.google.com/maps/).
NOTE: There will be audience talkbacks and panel discussions following each show.
The Talk (play): https://www.sonnykelly.com/the-talk and https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/749970_cbf2fe09559047278963faedcb55fa4b.pdf (Sonny Kelly’s web pages) and https://comm.unc.edu/event/the-talk-2/2019-01-24/ (UNC Department of Communication web page).
Sonny Kelly (playwright): https://www.sonnykelly.com/ (official website), https://comm.unc.edu/people/department-graduate-students-2/sonny-kelly/ (UNC Department of Communication bio), https://www.facebook.com/sonny.kelly (Facebook page), and https://twitter.com/SonnyKelly3 (Twitter page).
Joseph Megel (Pittsboro, NC director, artistic director of StreetSigns Center for Literature and Performance, and artist-in-residence in the UNC-Chapel Hill Department of Communication): https://www.piedmontperformancefactory.org/leadership (Piedmont Performance Factory bio), https://comm.unc.edu/people/department-faculty/joseph-megel/ (UNC Department of Communication bio), https://www.facebook.com/joseph.megel (Facebook page), and https://twitter.com (Twitter page).
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.