Bootycandy is sharp-witted and entertaining — but thoroughly sugary.
Bootycandy by Robert O’Hara. Directed by Summer L. Williams. Staged by SpeakEasy Stage Company at the Calderwood Pavilion, 527 Tremont St., Boston, MA, through April 9.
By Robert Israel
Bootycandy lives up to its name: it’s a confection, a wink-wink romp. And the SpeakEasy Stage Company production is suitably raunchy. It’s a flavorful theatrical experience, like watching Pop Rocks explode in a succession of tasty, sticky scenes, an effervesce that doesn’t quit until the laugh lines finally subside. It features a talented cast of five players — four black and one white — who take on numerous roles. Bootycandy succeeds brilliantly as long as it mirrors a predictably cartoon world. But the script falls flat when the playwright attempts to tie it all together with his so-called “throughline”: it’s far too flimsy a string to tie the scenes together effectively.
“[I was asked] if I’d consider taking some of the characters that populate the disparate short pieces and writing a full-length play with a throughline,” O’Hara writes in his playwright’s note, “but I thought the idea was silly because the short pieces were only connected by…my having written them all.”
O’Hara should have trusted his initial gut-reaction. But he’s an egotist. In his same playwright’s note he states that he considers himself “black, gay, and gifted.” You don’t say.
O’Hara’s self-aggrandizing aside, you most definitely should see Bootycandy. It is sharp-witted and entertaining. But just keep in mind that it is a guilty pleasure of an appetizer, like gobbling down mouthfuls of cotton candy (that marvelous pink wiry floss sold in a paper cone for a couple bucks at a carnival). I recommend attending a matinee: you’ll most certainly crave a substantial meal after the sugar rush.
But so long as you are prepared for the sweet experience you’re in for a fun ride, from the first scene when a young Sutter (Maurice Emmanuel Parent), standing in his skivvies, asks a series of sexually provocative questions to Young Black Mom (Tiffany Nicole Greene), as to why his penis is called “bootycandy.” Expect a plethora of penis jokes (and a smattering of vagina jokes, too) to follow. It’s the oldest trick in the books. Just think of Lysistrata, Aristophanes’ hit in ancient Greece. All these centuries later and we never seem to grow out of laughing at crotch jokes.
Cut to the next scene, featuring that ever-ebullient actor Johnny Lee Davenport as the Reverend Benson. You’ll enjoy adding your chortles to his sermon. I refuse to spoil it any further. Suffice it to say, Davenport tickles the funny bone with his outlandish mannerisms, his grinning gapped teeth, and a basso profundo voice that fills the theater.
Jackie Davis matches him: she plays five roles, and puts so much physicality into her energetic turns that you can’t keep your eyes off her. The venerable John Kuntz is terrific in his four roles, and brings the house down when he does a hand and arm ballet while he explains, wordlessly, what it means to be homosexual.
Director Summer L. Williams writes in her director’s note that the playwright “gives us all these puzzle pieces, which don’t necessarily give us the full picture.” She goes on to insist that the play is “rewarding.” But by not giving us the full picture, the script makes us settle for piecemeal enjoyment of the playfully wicked parts. Still, other than intruding on the play by calling attention to herself as the director via a miked-in interruption (it’s part of the script, but it should have been cut from the production), Williams stands aside and lets her vigorously talented players take joyous control of the freewheeling script.
If only O’Hara has gotten out of the way, too, and let the “disparate scenes” he originally created unravel without a superimposed “throughline”: the result would have been even more enjoyable. Still, Bootycandy is worth seeking out because O’Hara unleashes the healing power of laughter at a time that our all-too-deadly world desperately needs it.
Robert Israel writes about theater, travel, and the arts, and is a member of Independent Reviewers of New England (IRNE). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.