Fort Worth — A glass shatters in the darkness and the lights go up. Hey, who’s that in the bathroom?
Robert O’Hara’s Bootycandy delivers the title goods in the funny, raunchy opening scene in which a young black kid, clearly gay from inception, gets the skinny from his mama on the proper uses—as well as the care and cleaning of—his uncircumcised penis. The glass is broken, and so is the play’s subject of a gay youth in a working class black family, and that character’s future sexual adventures and other life lessons.
We’re off and running through a fast-paced, R-rated journey of scenes in the life and work of Sutter (quietly handsome Aaron Green), a bookish boy surrounded by bossy women and a little worried about a man that keeps following him home from the library. “What’re you doin’?” his babbling mama yells back, assuming the stalker is the kid’s fault. “I go to work every day to put clothes on your back and buy you Happy Meals.” Step-dad advises, “You need to stop bendin’ your knees when you pick something up,” and for god’s sake, “stop jiggling so much when you walk.” And, of course, no more school musicals for this guy.
Akín Babatundé, with his customary wit and sympathetic humor, directs the regional premiere of O’Hara’s 2011 comedy, which the rising black playwright directed in the off-Broadway production at Playwrights Horizons in 2014. (In September, O’Hara will direct the Dallas Theater Center’s world premiere of Kirsten Childs’ musical Bella: An American Tall Tale, co-produced with Playwrights Horizons.)
Jim Covault’s elegant set design is four large door-like panels at the rear of the proscenium stage, providing shifting backdrops for each scene. The illusion is enhanced by adding video projections and a few props walked on and off by the actors and stage crew with seamless ease.
Green’s Sutter, the only constant role, is an eager, bright-eyed kid, joyously reading racy novels and hooked on Michael Jackson videos. Most of the vignettes in the play follow his erotic adventures, including an early, ongoing affair with an avowed straight man he relates to in more ways than one. Green’s Sutter evolves in the course of the show from a childish curiosity about his sensual urges and a sweet wish to be kissed, to a tougher, more caustic veneer. His open smile darkens to a dare-me coldness as he hits the bar scene where pick-up sex takes on riskier overtones.
Natalie Wilson King, Liz Mikel, Djoré Nance and Justin Duncan deliver all the other roles with hard-driving speed and dramatic panache. Ignoring race and gender stereotypes, Babatundé and his cool, confident crew not only land the laughs with cross-dressing guys in lacy gold evening gowns; they also make us see that no man or woman of any skin color has the market cornered on relentless sexual desire or mean gossip.
Other characters on the black gay scene are present, presumably created by playwrights attending a conference. A too-long satire of such pedantic gatherings is delivered just before intermission, featuring Duncan as an idiotic white moderator who has no idea what’s going on with his guests. “How did you get a name like O’Malley,” he asks a black writer. “Slavery,” she replies.
Duncan, lily-white and hazel-eyed, is also scary-pitiful in the show’s rawest episode, embodying a jacked-up drunk off his meds and desperate for any action he can get his hands on.
Mikel, a member of Dallas Theater Center’s Brierley Acting Company and cast in DTC’s upcoming Bella, makes a furiously funny phone call as an incredulous woman bitching out her pregnant sister (King, making indignant faces) for choosing to name her unborn child “Genitalia,” as well as tacking on Islamic names. Uh-oh. In a follow-up sketch later in the show, Mikel appears as the adult Genitalia with King as her lesbian lover in a bawdy satire of clichéd marriage vows generally, and potty-mouthed gal fights specifically.
Nance brings the house down in his purple preacher robes addressing his congregation in full rant on the behavior of “several of our choir boys” reported to him in a letter signed by “the folks who pay your salary.” A stained glass window projected behind him, he pounds the pulpit and holds forth on these so-called “twisted” youths. But the Book of Revelation has nothing on this preacherman—and Nance delivers that message with deliberate dignity and high comic purpose.
The essentially dramatic and satiric vignettes veer toward the sentimental in the last sketch featuring Nance as Sutter’s old granny, faking dementia in a nursing home and recovering her memory only when her loving grandson drops a $20 bill in her lap. Wigged and wheezing, whispering and cajoling by turns, the character reminded me of Bill Cosby’s old stand-up bits about his grandmother. Granny craves ribs more than Sutter craves love. She gives him a hug, he gets on his cell phone and reads off the menu from a soul food restaurant. Talk about forbidden fruit!
Sex, ribs, gossip, hugs, laughs—and even a Michael Jackson finale number. Bootycandy is some fun, bawdy and poignant stuff.