Chicago Theatre Review
Acting talents shine in funny, slightly uneven ‘Bootycandy’
‘Bootycandy,’ which is receiving its Chicago premiere at Windy City Playhouse, is one of the wildest, most unpredictable shows I have seen in some time. A series of vignettes that loosely chronicle the early life of a gay Black man, the show provides a wonderful spotlight for some very talented, fearless actors, though I do question some of writer/director Robert O’Hara’s choices.
The vignettes of ‘Bootycandy’ run the gamut. In one, a boy (rising star Travis Turner) engages in a frank discussion of sex with his mother (the versatile Krystel McNeil), asking her such questions as “What is a blowjob?” and “Why do you call my dick ‘Bootycandy’? In another, a reverend (the dynamic Osiris Khepera) addresses rumors of gay activity in the boy’s choir by not only admitting to his own homosexuality, but in taking off his robes and unveiling high heels and a spectacularly sparkly dress. And in another, Turner’s protagonist, now an awkward teenager who dresses like Michael Jackson and reads Stephen King novels, receives a litany of behavioral corrections he must make from his uptight parents, including that he play more sports (and culminating in his mother, played by Debrah Neal, ordering that he’ll spend the summer with “balls in your face”).
At its best, ‘Bootycandy’ sparkles in the way only the best satire can. The jokes are fierce and fast, the caricatures blunt and on the nose, and all the while, the action dangerously teeters toward tragedy; for instance, in one bar scene, a lewd game of truth or dare between Turner, Khepera, and a drunk white patron (Robert Fenton) devolves into one of rape and suicide – it’s one thing for O’Hara to find the comedy in straddling the demands of both the white world and the straight world, but the consequences of defying those conventions are never too far from his mind.
Where ‘Bootycandy’ is less successful is in its post-modern touches, which include one scene that devolves into inter-play commentary (it ends abruptly with characters questioning the playwright’s motives), and another that is a mock-discussion panel, where an idiotic white moderator stumbles through culturally clueless questions with Black playwrights, all who claim to be working on plays involving the show’s earlier vignettes. It’s clear what O’Hara is going for – the vast majority of white people (and white critics, for that matter) are wholly ignorant to race relations in America and artist’s attempts to confront them – but the deconstructionism feels out of tune with the satire of the other vignettes, and the play’s momentum stumbles as a result.
But still, there is much to admire in ‘Bootycandy,’ and the show’s technical elements deserve particular praise. In addition to Janice Pytel’s spot-on costume designs, Katie Bell Kenny’s scenic design is surely among the most imaginative audiences will see this year. The silhouette of a cityscape that extends the full length of the stage, there is a darkness and beauty to the design, especially when distinct spots in the cityscape glow during the show’s vignettes, telling the audience the name of each scene.
Reviewed by Peter Thomas Ricci
Running through April 15 at Windy City Playhouse, 3014 W. Irving Park Road
Tickets are available by visiting http://windycityplayhouse.com or calling or 773-891-8985.
Additional information about this and other spectacular area productions is available at the one, the only, the indefatigable www.theatreinchicago.com.