Reviews Off-Broadway Published 14 September 2014


Playwrights Horizons ⋄ 21 August - 12 October 2014

Being gay and black.

Richard Patterson

In Bootycandy, playwright-director Robert O’Hara has accomplished quite a feat. While launching a full-on comic onslaught using broad stereotypes — of the black, and specifically black gay, community — as his ammunition, he also manages to present a moving portrait of one man’s adolescence growing up as a Michael Jackson-grooving, Jackie Collins-reading outsider in a world that values masculinity and conformity above all.

Initially taking the form of a series of comic vignettes with saucy titles — “Bootycandy,” “Genitalia,” and “Drinks and Desire” are a few — most of the play’s scenes capture moments in the life of the play’s protagonist, Sutter. In the first scene, Sutter questions his mom about his “bootycandy” (the name his mother’s given to his penis). “Mommy what’s a blowjob?” and “Mommy what’s a period?” are just two of his probing questions, both of which are met with anger and the retort, “Look it up.” It quickly becomes clear that, in dealing with his own self-discovery, Sutter is largely on his own.

O’Hara’s various scenes flash backward and forward in time, weaving together like an intricate tapestry. In “Drinks and Desire,” we see Sutter all grown up and learn how complicated his life has become. His sister has married the son of the man who took his virginity at the age of sixteen. Sutter and his brother-in-law are out for drinks and enter into an ongoing illicit affair that ends up leaving the two of them lonely and broken.

Other vignettes follow other members of Sutter’s community. “Genitalia” presents a four-way landline conversation about a local woman, Adella, who announces she’s going to name her baby Genitalia because “it has a nice ring to it.” As one woman puts the other on hold to pick up the other line, the actress playing the other speaker flips to reveal a new costume and character to great comic effect. In “Dreamin in Church,” local preacher Reverent Benson combats the rumors of the so-called “I HEARD FOLK” by coming out as a drag queen in front of the congregation.

Once the play’s first five scenes are over, O’Hara throws a “meta” sucker punch in Scene Six, “Conference,” in which a white moderator of a playwriting conference brings out a group of black writers who purport to be working on plays about the exact premises we’ve just seen played out on stage in the previous scenes. The “writers” of these scenes are initially skeptical of their moderator, wondering why they’ve even been summoned, but as his questions grow increasingly ignorant, their impatience reaches a breaking point that ends act one with a thrilling uncertainty over what could possibly happen next.

In the play’s second act, O’Hara’s play deepens and darkens significantly. We follow Sutter as he and a friend trick a white bar patron, possibly to the point of suicide. We get to see grown-up Genitalia and her soon-to-be-ex. And, in the play’s final moving scene, we see Sutter with his granny, who at that point in the play is in a nursing home, craving nothing more than baby back ribs. Sutter brings with him his iPhone, filled with digitized recordings of childhood conversations. As he hits play, long-ago exchanges pour out, momentarily trapping Sutter and his grandmother in the past as if in crystallized amber.

Bootycandy is, at moments, outrageously funny — provoking laughter by hyper-magnifying stereotypes of black people and gays and showing us their absurdity. But it also hits hard in its quieter moments. Though its plot is mostly scattershot, the sum of its parts accumulates over the course of the play to a satisfying-enough degree.

O’Hara’s company of actors is also excellent — especially Phillip James Brannon, who grounds the events of the play as Sutter, playing the “straight” man to many of the evening’s gags, and Lance Coadie Williams, who captures an audience’s full attention early on as over-the-top Reverend Benson but later breaks our hearts as Granny, his physical transformation capturing this funny old lady in a heartbreakingly “real” way that’s a testament to his skills an actor.

It’s rare to see a play that confronts being black and gay head-on, with no pussyfooting around the subject. The jokes here are broad, silly, and hysterical, and the language and situations never shy away from the playwright’s vision for the piece. Like candy, it’s sweet and shiny and goes down easy, but don’t be deceived for a moment into thinking this play might be mere vapid comedy. Bootycandy is, ultimately, essential viewing for anyone interested in the future of provocative playwriting — a truly original treat.


Richard Patterson

A graduate of New York University with a degree in Dramatic Literature, Richard was deputy theatre editor at from 2008-2011 and New York Editor of Exeunt from 2011-2016. He is excited to continue on as a contributor. With a penchant for Sondheim, the Bard, and Beckett, as well as for new writing, theatergoing highlights include Fiona Shaw's Winnie in "Happy Days," Derek Jacobi's Lear, Jonathan Pryce in "The Caretaker," and Chiwetel Ejiofor's Othello at the Donmar. Richard's criticism has been published in The Sondheim Review.

Bootycandy Show Info

Directed by Robert O'Hara

Written by Robert O'Hara

Cast includes Phillip James Brannon, Jessica Frances Dukes, Marisa Levy, Stephen Milosevich, Jesse Pennington, Benja Kay Thomas, Lance Coadie Williams


Running Time 2 hrs, 30 min (with on intermission)



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