Saturday, 6 September 2014

Robert O'Hara's BOOTYCANDY at Playwrights Horizons

     Hilarious, raunchy, thought provoking, Robert O'Hara's BOOTYCANDY, like Brandon Jacobs Jenkins terrific AN OCTOROON, is in part a comic extravaganza about the pressures of being a Black playwright and what is a Black play exactly. BOOTYCANDY is a series of sketches -- some comic, some serious, some both. Some of them are quasi-autobiographical (maybe), focusing on Sutter (Phillip James Brannon) from boyhood to manhood as a playwright. The strongest figures in his life are his mother and grandmother, both powerful personalities who love raw language. During his teenage years, Sutter has a sexual affair with the father of one of his white friends. This is not at all sensationalized, rather treated as a caring relationship on both sides. Between the scenes from the life of Sutter are hilarious moments like the preacher stripping off his robes to reveal a gold lame drag outfit (one of many hilarious turns by Lance Coadie Williams) and more serious scenes about Sutter's encountering a drunken white man who wants to have sex with him. There are also self-reflexive moments, like the panel of Black playwrights moderated by a particularly dense white man. It turns out that the scenes we have seen have been written by these playwrights. Another encounter between Sutter and a white man ends violently but also in a surprising, thought-provoking way. As the title would suggest, there's a lot of talk about sex and sex organs. Much to the amazement and consternation of her mothers friends, a baby was named Genitalia. I wouldn't say sex is celebrated -- it is often connected to fear or silence -- but it is a powerful presence.
     BOOTYCANDY is constantly surprising. The young audience loved it. I can't say enough about the superb ensemble that play multiple roles. Brannon's Sutter is curious, but there's anger under his stillness. Williams is a revelation. The two women (they play four roles in one scene), Jessica Frances Dukes and Benja Kay Thomas are different in every role they play. Jesse Pennington plays all the white men, most of them drunk, horny and lonely. If they all seem to be the same character, it's because O'Hara wants us to see them that way.
     O'Hara has effectively directed his own script. Perhaps the pace could be picked up at times -- it's still in previews -- but the audience clearly loved the play and the production. Hats off, too, to Clint Ramos for the fabulous costumes and fine sets.
BOOTYCANDY. Playwrights Horizons. September 5, 2014.

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