‘The Talk’ Between One Man, His Son And His Community

Feb 5, 2019

A new one-man, interactive play seeks to change minds and create a more just and equitable community. Sonny Kelly is the playwright and star of “The Talk.” He wrote the production after giving his 7-year-old son a version of “the talk” — a conversation African-American parents often have with their children about how to act in encounters with the police.

Kelly said the play allows the audience to come into his frame of mind at that moment. The actor plays more than 20 different characters, including his mom and dad, his sons, and well-known figures like Barack Obama and James Baldwin.

Kelly talks to host Frank Stasio about how he hopes this production inspires direct action. “The Talk” is at Durham Fruit and Produce Co. until Feb. 10. The production will be at UNC’s Historic Playmakers Theatre in Chapel Hill from Feb. 14 to Feb. 17.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

On the talk he gave his son after listening to media coverage of the riots in Baltimore after Freddie Gray’s death:

I gave him a talk right then about survival — about the fact that some people will judge him because of the color of his skin, so he's got to rise above that and always be better and always be on guard. And it wasn't until a week later … I was walking in downtown Fayetteville, and I just started weeping out of nowhere. And I realized then that some traumatic experience had happened to me … Trauma can be like a specter. It'll sneak up on you, and it snuck up on me, and I was weeping uncontrollably. And as an artist and a scholar, I just thought to digest it. So I grabbed my phone. I started typing it out. And that was the beginnings of what is now known as “The Talk.”

On why he facilitates an audience talkback after each show:

That's my requirement as an artist — as a writer, as an activist — is that we sit and we talk about this. Because now that I've put my skin in the game, and I've shown you my emotional underbelly — and my love for my child and my concern and my anxiety and the fact that I don't have the right answers — I want to ask you all to sit down with me and be just as vulnerable, so we can try to figure out some things together.

On his mother’s story as a white-presenting woman who grew up in a black community:

My mother grew up always wanting to prove her blackness. And I was her first child — [I] was her third child — but I was the first one that had brown skin. And so she called me her brown bomber, and I grew up being the favorite child because I was the darker child. So again, American history and white supremacy [is] on its head in this particular microcosm. So what I love about this story is I just showed the fact that we're all over the place. Americans and the systems that we use to categorize and label each other are neurotic and sick and perverse, but we still use them. So racism may be a social construct, but it's a social construct with teeth.