October 25, 2014
Bootycandy approaches you like a stranger offering sweets. The allure of its rapid-fire, side-splitting comedy reels you in while its deeper issues develop far more slowly, pangs of guilt ultimately accompanying each emission of laughter. In a pop-up book depiction of his childhood growing up black and gay, writer and director Robert O’Hara asks us to ask ourselves what exactly we are laughing at, why we are laughing, and to sit, fully aware of that answer as he grants us a privileged view into his experience of stereotypes, acknowledged and transcended.
To accomplish this, O’Hara casts us in every scene, whether or not we agree to or even realize it. A Reverend addresses an issue plaguing his parish (gay choirboys). Lance Williams’s delivery is manic as he shifts percussively between vocal registers. During the repetitive buildup of text, we actually shift from serving as his congregation to one of those very choirboys, anxiously awaiting being outed to his community. Instead, Williams uses the gossip-driven witch-hunt to confrontationally come out to us, stripping his vestments to reveal a sparkling gown underneath. No longer his congregation, we feel relief, cheering for our pastor, in a way that we his parishoners would have found difficult.
Later examples address more theoretical issues. At the end of Act I, house lights come up. “Playwrights’ Horizons” is projected along the top, and the actors return to the stage with water bottles. The convincing illusion is shattered by the sole white cast member, Jesse Pennington, assuming the moderator’s role in an uncanny representation of the horrors of talkbacks. The other actors are authors of previous scenes, discussing their work. We deal head-on with the discomfort of the historical issue of white theatre as universal and black theatre as merely specific through painful discussion that goes unquestioned.
While O’Hara floods our eyes with bold visuals, his mechanics are largely linguistic. Young Sutter’s mother teaches him to refer to anything unsavory through euphemisms that are just as explicit if not more explicit than the words they are replacing. The habit becomes a symbol for the pitfalls of political correctness. Bootycandy transforms from that initial stranger into Sutter’s own mother, telling us what we don’t want to hear in uncomfortably padded language. Even the most forward-thinking viewers will discover the unsavory walls in their minds when engaged with O’Hara’s representation of the arbitrary contradictions of being two minorities at once.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews