Chicago Theatre Review
A Comic Treat with a Bite
BootyCandy – Windy City Playhouse
Written by African American playwright and director Robert O’Hara, this series of interconnected vignettes, each of which could stand alone as a satirical, comic blackout scene, won the Lambda Literary Award for LGBT Drama. First performed in Washington D.C. in 2011, O’Hara’s play, when taken in total, explores what it often means to grow up gay and black in this country. This X-rated, over-the-top comedy features a brilliant cast, each playing several hilarious, well-drawn characters, exploding in energetic dialogue laced with foul language, graphic descriptions of gay sex and even full frontal nudity. There’s something for everyone, but this is definitely not a family show, nor a comedy for the uptight or easily offended.
The play originated as a series of twelve short skits, but O’Hara found there was a through line buried within the playlets. Eventually a young male character named Sutter emerged as the primary spokesperson for the entire piece. This discovery ultimately allowed the playwright to weave all twelve stories together. O’Hara’s fragmented play, which jumps around in time and place, is somewhat based upon the playwright’s personal experiences when he was coming out as a gay, black man. While the comedy is often broad and biting, there’s also a little bile and venom looming beneath the surface. This isn’t a loving recollection of a boy growing up in a caring family. It’s almost a condemnation of a life laced with humiliation and pain. It supports the old adage that if we don’t laugh at a situation, we’ll end up crying.
The first scene opens on Sutter as a little boy, dressing to go shopping with his mama. He’s full of questions, but in particular Sutter wants to know why his mother makes him bathe so carefully, with special attention to his penis. Mama tells Sutter that it’s because he’s uncircumcised and needs to clean it especially well, just in case someone wants to enjoy his bootycandy. The play opens with this scene and the salty dialogue and absurd situations escalate from there.
In another scene a flamboyant minister admonishes his parishioners for gossiping about the boys in the choir, but he has a few of his own surprises to share. Next, we see Sutter as a shy, young man hooking up with another guy at a bar. Then there’s an hilarious scene in which a couple of gossiping women discuss the strange name one of them wants to name her new baby. A scene in which a same sex couple formally separate, pops up next. It’s very funny and the absolute antithesis of a civil union ceremony. Yet another barroom scene finds Sutter and his feminine-acting friend deciding to take advantage of a drunk young straight man. Then, at the dinner table, high school student Sutter tries to tell his parents about a strange man who followed him home, but all he gets from them is blame for being a bookworm. His overbearing mama and stepfather then launch into a litany of absurd demands and ultimatums about how he should and shouldn’t behave from now on. The craziness continues on and on.
A talented, versatile ensemble of actors, directed by playwright Robert O’Hara, all perform with much spirit and wild abandon. Travis Turner, wonderful in Steppenwolf’s “The Flick” and Lookingglass Theatre’s “Thaddeus and Slocum,” nicely captures the character of Sutter at various stages of his life. This young man again proves he’s definitely one of Chicago’s finest young actors. Krystel McNeil, Debrah Neal, Osiris Khepera and Rob Fenton play all the rest of the characters with brilliance and shrewd comic timing. Each actor brings his or her own particular genius to the stage and must be credited for delivering the laughs in O’Hara’s surreal script. In addition, Janice Pytel’s clever, colorful and eye-popping costumes help define each character and add another element of humor to the production.
Robert O’Hara’s unabashedly adult entertainment plays like a series of comedy sketches that eventually blend into a single, revealing story. His somewhat biographic recollection, peppered with hyperbolic humor, offers a bitter condemnation of what it’s like to grow up gay in the African American community. There’s plenty of sugar, lots of spice and even a dash of hot sauce in this buffet of buffoonery. Everyone on stage has a field day of funniness that may surprise and even shock, but the audience will never forget their evening with Sutter, his friends and family.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented January 25-April 15 by Windy City Playhouse, 3014 N. Irving Park Road, Chicago.
Tickets are available in person at the box office, by calling 773-891-8985 or by going to www.WindyCityPlayhouse.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.