Whether funny, disturbing or intriguing, ‘Bootycandy’ draws you in
|Windy City Playhouse presents|
Review by Catey Sullivan
The playlets that comprise Robert O’Hara’s amusingly titled Bootycandy don’t seem particularly connected early on in the 10-scene drama. They’re well-acted and compelling, but they also feel like one-off scene studies rather than parts of a connected whole. It’s only gradually that O’Hara’s overarching story reveals itself. Everything in Booycandy is interlocked, from the puzzled youngster grilling his mother about the facts of life in Scene One to the ex-con ordering up ribs on his iPhone just before the final blackout.
At times funny, at others disturbing and increasingly intriguing the deeper you get into the two-hour production, Bootycandy sneaks up on you, drawing you into the characters’ lives as they unfold in a series of moments that don’t always have obvious links.
Four of the five actors in O’Hara’s cast play multiple roles, and In the program, they are identified only as Actor 1 (Krystal McNeil), Actor 2 (Travis Turner or Edward Mawere), Actor 3 (debra neal), Actor 4 (Osiris Khepera), and Actor 5 (Rob Fenton).
Actor 2 is the only ensemble member dedicated to a single role, a boy – and later a man – named Sutter. We meet Sutter as a young child trying to make sense of the strange, nonsensical vocabulary that adults use when talking about sex and private parts. For the next two hours, O’Hara offers up formative moments in Sutter’s life and the lives of those around him. Overall, they form a biography that’s marked by tragedy and resilience. Sutter is both victim and victimizer, violently so in both cases. In Turner’s nuanced performance, Sutter is simultaneously despicable and empathetic, a damaged person who does horrible things, and has horrible things done to him.
Occasionally, the story veers into tangents, but they’re every bit as compelling as the primary thru-line. McNeil and neal each portray two vivid characters in a single scene (ingeniously costumed by Janice Pytel.) Giving the name of the scene would be a spoiler, so suffice to say, it’s the sickly hilarious story of a child saddled with the world’s worst name. In “Ceremony”, McNeil and neal introduce us to the grown up version of the child with the unfortunate moniker. She’s in the midst of a dissolving marriage ritual that is as twisted as it is entertaining.
In “Church Dreaming,” Khepera’s Actor 4 takes the audience to church (literally) with a sermon that starts out traditionally enough and ends up as a high-heeled, glitter-bomb of a revival meeting where the gospel of LGBTQ tolerance explodes from the pulpit.
Fenton’s Actor 5 delivers “Mug,” a monologue between troubled young man and his would-be mugger. It starts out as comedy, and winds up deep in the land of darkest pathos, with the potential victim revealing himself to be as profoundly damaged as a desperate criminal.
In “The Last Gay Play,” Fenton, Turner and Khepera create what a scene that becomes harder and harder to watch the longer it continues. It’s potentially triggering story of an assault, a death, and two men broken past the point of healing. One displays the cold-eyed brutality of a sociopath, the other a horrifying need to be punished. Together, they are toxic in the most lethal sense of the word.
Bootycandy isn’t uniformly effective through all ten scene. When O’Hara turns to the meta-theatrical by breaking the fourth wall and bringing up the lights, the production loses its momentum and becomes laden with artifice that does nothing to enhance the play and plenty to distract from it. Thankfully, these interludes are few.
Katie-Bell Kenney’s scenic design and Lee Fiskness’ lighting design create a grid-like backdrop of colors and shapes that shift with the scenes. The end result is a production that’s powerful both visually and emotionally.
Bootycandy continues through April 15th at Windy City Playhouse, 3014 W. Irving Park (map), with performances Wednesdays & Thursdays 7:30pm, Fridays & Saturdays 8pm Sundays 3pm. Tickets are $25-$55, and are available by phone (773-891-8985) or through PrintTixUSA.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at WindyCityPlayhouse.com. (Running time: 2 hours, includes an intermission)
Photos by Michael Brosilow
behind the scenes
Robert O’Hara (playwright, director), Katie-Bell Kenney (scenic design), Lee Fiskness (lighting design), Janice Pytel (costume design), Lindsay Jones (sound design, original music), Jamie Karas (props), Cree Rankin (casting director), Logan Jones (stage manager), Michael Brosilow (photographs)