Bull dogs are marvelous creatures, loyal and loving companions that can prove to be relentless once they get something in their teeth. In this way, Bull Dog Ensemble Theater well lives up to its moniker with the bold presentation of The Talk, co-produced with StreetSigns Center for Literature and Performance, in association with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Department of Communication. Staged in the versatile performance space carved out of the Durham Fruit and Produce Co. building (through Feb. 10th, after which it relocates to UNC’s Historic Playmakers Theatre from Feb 14-17), The Talk is a one-man show that adopts a tough-love look at what it takes to be grow up as a person of color in modern America.
Even at a brisk 70 minutes, a one-man show is a tricky thing to pull off; but Sonny Kelly does so with poise, charisma, and elegance of speech. Drawing from history, his own and our collective American history books, Kelly draws the audience in to a vision of culture, race, how far we’ve come … and how far we still have to go.
Deftly directed by Joseph Megel, The Talk is an emotional journey with Sonny Kelly as our erudite guide. The set (designed by Rob Hamilton) is simple and effective, using only a few but well-chosen costume and prop elements at hand (designed by Lakeisha Coffey). The dialogue is further aided by the dynamic lighting design of Elizabeth Grimes Droessler, sound design by Michael Betts II, and projections by Zavier A. L. Taylor that help weave the campaign into a cohesive whole.
The show is part lecture, part poetry, as much an indictment as it is a plea for the “real” America to step forward. Because while we may have elected our first Black president not so very long ago, that point in history stands alongside many uglier truths that have allowed far too many Black men (a term the show thoroughly explores) to suffer needlessly and tragically. And if we’re going to be honest with ourselves — as Kelly insists on — then we have to look at the whole truth, because “The truth isn’t going anywhere unless it is dealt with.”
The show is framed around “the Talk”, a rite-of-passage that is part of the collective Black experience in which a family elder educates the young ones on what it’s like to grow up in a culture where how one is treated can be altered based on the color of one’s skin. It was a sad but necessary part of Sonny Kelly’s childhood, and with his own two young songs reaching that critical age, the need to pass it along is keenly affecting him. Hence this show is largely autobiographical, although Kelly shifts into an almost dizzying array of ancillary characters: his father, his grandfather, his mother, and many other persons besides, including his own seven-year-old son. The audience is drawn into the discussion, in calculated ways during the show, but also for a talkback after Kelly takes his bows. The result is an engrossing and highly moving work that will leave audience members soul-searching long after the night is done.
The Talk is a special show with an important message, bravely forging a way towards having the dialogues that need to happen for our country to find true unity. The intimacy of the show, and the unrelenting yet respectful delivery of the message by Sonny, is extremely effective. As vital as The Talk is to our modern world, the real hope is that one day we’ll build a world where The Talk is no longer necessary. Judging by the predominately white audience members that filled the seats on a cold Thursday night, it’s possible that hope grows closer to fruition every day.
Do yourself an favor: don’t just go to see The Talk — stay for the talkback afterwards and become part of the conversation.
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). (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Feb. 1st Triangle Review review by Pamela Vesper and Kurt Benrud, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2019/02/sonny-kelly-is-amazing-in-the-talk-do-not-miss-it/.)
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 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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
SHOW: https://www.piedmontperformancefactory.org/now-playing, https://www.bulldogdurham.org/the-talk, https://www.facebook.com/events/2003304659783210/.
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.
Bull Dog Ensemble Theater: https://www.bulldogdurham.org/ and https://www.facebook.com/BulldogEnsembleTheater/.
The Fruit: http://www.durhamfruit.com/, https://www.facebook.com/305sdillardst/, and https://twitter.com/durhamfruit (directions [scroll down]: http://www.durhamfruit.com/).
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/josephmegel (Twitter page).
Melanie Simmons of Cary, NC is a film and stage actress with a BA degree in Theatre from Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, CA. She has studied acting with Sande Shurin Acting Studios in New York City and The Actor’s Workshop in Los Angeles, CA; and she now trains locally with Lynda Clark (stage), Daryl Ray Carlisle (film/commercial), and Rebekah Holland (voice). Simmons has performed at Raleigh Little Theatre in Raleigh, Forest Moon Theater in Wake Forest, Stageworks Theatre in Holly Springs, and many others. She is represented by Talent One Agency in Raleigh. Click here to read her reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.