Talk about destiny. Tell your kid his penis is called “bootycandy” and you are not setting him up for a career as, say, a civil engineer. Something a tad more dramatic and outlandish is perhaps in store for the lad.That’s what happened to playwright Robert O’Hara, whose mother chose a distinctively outré name for his private parts. With that sort of start in life, is it any wonder the child grew up worshipping (and taping for posterity) his creatively cussing grandma, devouring Jackie Collins’ potboilers and memorizing Michael Jackson moves?
In Bootycandy, Mr. O’Hara details how a euphemism shaped his sexual identity and view of the world. Hilarious, tasteless and shocking, Bootycandy does for breaking taboos what the John Waters cult movie “Pink Flamingos” did for dog poo.
Bootycandy, rendered by an exemplary cast with the full-out energy and conviction of pole dancers aiming for a c-note tip, could be generously termed a play. It is closer to a series of vignettes on various forms of sexual and race relations freely structured around the life trajectory of one of the main characters, Sutter (Phillip James Brannon), a young, gay, African American playwright. The show goes back and forth in time to show Sutter’s upbringing, his complicated sex life, and the attempts to pigeonhole him and other people who do not necessarily fit in neatly labeled categories.
Loosey-goosey in humor and format, Bootycandy is not for shrinking violets or those stick-in-the-muds who insist that plays need a plot, a through-line, dramatic arcs, or character development. The only thing it has in common with Aristotle is climax, and there are more of them that you can shake your anal beads at.
Against a silver disco-inspired proscenium and shiny dance floor, the characters in Bootycandy take an unbridled and raucously funny journey through desires, libido, and the need to push through boundaries. Most of what transpires at Woolly Mammoth cannot be described in polite society or without using the kind of veiled language favored by the playwright’s family.
One of the memorable vignettes shows a fire and brimstone preacher (Lance Coadie Williams, equally delightful as a flamboyant preacher, distracted Dad or fretful gay sidekick) coming out to his congregation in a spectacular, RuPaul fashion. Another contains a nod to the 60s TV show “Laugh In,” with doors on the sides of the proscenium swinging open to reveal two sets of women discussing one of them pinning a rather gynecological name on her unborn child—let’s just say it rhymes with “bacchanalia.”
Sutter’s fitful experiences as a gay teen are the topic of the bit “Happy Meal,” where the mother (Laiona Michelle, fiercely maternal and just plain fierce) rants over a grown man following her son home from the library and the father (Mr. Williams) barely looks up from the newspaper while grunting such helpful advice as “Bend your knees when you bend over” and “Take up sports.”
A stinging commentary on theaters silo-ing playwrights is delivered in “Play Conference,” with black writers sharing the stage with the clueless white moderator (Sean Meehan, a striking shape-shifter in a bevy of sometimes unsettling roles), who asks one of the assembled (Jessica Frances Dukes, a nonstop powerhouse who lends succulent, idiosyncratic spins on Mr. O’Hara’s dizzying language and ditzy characters) how her name—Terry O’Malley—came about. “Slavery,” she answers.
Another vignette depicts an “un-commitment ceremony,” as a lesbian couple (Miss Michelle and Miss Dukes) endeavors to sever the ties that bond in an uproarious bastardization of traditional marriage vows. They not only want to be exes, but “ex-lax”—purged from each other body and soul.
The serious pieces can be startling in frankness and subject matter, but they are not as satisfying emotionally as the comic offerings. Mr. O’Hara tries to push the envelope in these pieces, but you get the feeling that once he’s out there he doesn’t know where to go or how to finish what he started. A similar problem existed in his play Antebellum, also produced at Woolly, where he wrote himself into one helluva corner and the only way he could end the play was shooting his way out of it.
In Bootycandy, Mr. O’Hara again appears more adept with perversity than profundity. Long may his freak flag fly.
Written and directed by Robert O’Hara
Produced by Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes with one 15 minute intermission
- Peter Marks . Washington Post
- Jonathan Padget . Metro Weekly
- Bob Mondello . Washington City Paper
- Missy Frederick . Washingtonian
- Patrick Pho . WeLoveDC
- Robert Powers . MDTheatreGuide
Andrej Krasnansky . DCist
- Kaitlin . BrightestYoungThingso