There are the timid plays you
watch impatiently, wishing the writer had the guts to stage the more outrageous figments of his imagination. And then there are compulsively
enjoyable plays like Bootycandy, Robert O’Hara’s exploration of race, queerness, and the limits of drama, in which the
playwright does precisely that.
Now at Playwrights Horizons in a crisp production under O’Hara’s direction,
Bootycandy loosely follows the tale of Sutter (Phillip James Brannon), a gay African American man who grew up in the 1970s (think bell-bottoms, polyester, and the Jackson 5). Sutter explores sexuality, family, and becoming a writer in a theater world that still asks African American and queer artists to fulfill narrowly prescribed roles.
O’Hara has structured his play associatively, with many scenes only half-
connected to Sutter. There’s a “non-
commitment” ceremony between two exes on a Caribbean beach; a preacher who comes out to his congregation, trading clerical robes for sequins and shiny red heels; and a delightful four-way phone call about the pros and cons of naming one’s baby Genitalia. These satirical detours broaden the play’s critique and showcase the wonderful ensemble.
There are a few moments — like an
onstage “playwrights conference” — when Bootycandy feels so self-reflexive that it veers into inside-joke territory. But the
missteps are outweighed by the pleasures of sharp writing, serious thought, and beaucoup comic relief. Miriam Felton-Dansky