If you’ve developed a fondness for non-PC talk because of this season’s loony Republican presidential campaign, then you may want to sample some stronger stuff than references to “small hands” and the genital-related horror that description implies. After all, if we’re going to chuck political correctness and decorum into a blazing dumpster that’s rolling at high speed towards a cliff’s edge, why not go all the way?
In Bootycandy, now at convergence-continuum, playwright Robert O’Hara goes all the way —language-wise — and then doubles back and goes all the way again to make sure no nasty words and thoughts were left unspoken. And while there are some glitches in this balls-to-the-wall satire of some familiar cultural stereotypes, the ribald humor is often howlingly funny. The story is woven around a young black man named Sutter and his close relatives. We first meet him as a naïve youngster and then follow as he grows into a gay guy with some issues. The title of the play is explained in the first scene when Sutter, as a prepubescent and slightly effeminate child, is commanded by his mother to thoroughly wash his bootycandy (penis) before leaving the house. Otherwise, she adds ominously, it will fall off. Fully equipped with sexual misinformation, as most of us were in our early years, Sutter grows scene-by-scene into manhood. Along the way, other seemingly disconnected scenes are sprinkled in until, at the conclusion of Act 1, a meta-theatrical scene in a conference setting ties them all together quite tidily.
Those free-floating scenes include a preacher who is lamenting a letter he received from his church’s governing body about reports of gay activity in the boys’ choir. As the pastor, Michael May is flat-out hilarious, using his booming voice to maintain vocal control of his flock even as he reveals his under-the-robe secrets: red heels, make-up and a sexy strapless number. In another, assorted women on phones bat around the news that a pregnant relative/friend is planning on naming her daughter Genitalia. This news is not conveyed with any delicacy since one woman screams to another: “She’s gonna name her baby Vagina!”
It’s no secret that some African-Americans have a fondness for conjuring up unusual names for their kids. And indeed, the stereotypes about blacks, whites and gays flow freely in this show, and there is precious little subtlety. So if you’re a fan of the oblique double entendre and a sly Noel Coward bon mot, you’ve come to the wrong place. But if you’re ready for grown-up Sutter and his brother-in-law to openly discuss what they’d like to do sexually to each other, in graphic detail (ie., “Will you eat out my ass?” “Sure!”), then this is the play for you.
But let’s be clear: O’Hara has more talent than your average profanity-spewing cretin or certain presidential hopefuls. He’s using crude language to bludgeon us into recognizing the societal fig leaves that hide our true feelings. And when O’Hara gets on a riff, as he does when Sutter’s parents start fretting about their son’s interest in Jackie Collins’ novels and high-school musicals, it can be a laugh riot. “No more show-choir camp!” yells mom. Dad chimes in with suggestions like playing football and baseball. Then mom seconds his motion by warning her son, “You will have balls in your face!”
And indeed he will, as Sutter continues his gay journey that leads to violence and a tragic outcome. While there are some serious moments in the show, most of it is played for laughs and the talented cast usually delivers under Terrence Spivey’s sure-handed and stylized direction. May is the standout, early on as the preacher and later as Suttter’s grandmother who is isolated in a nursing home and only wants a big plate of baby back spare ribs. If it is true, as it notes in the program, that this is May’s final stage performance, he could have hardly found a better swan song. He is sheer perfection throughout.
Also excellent is Wesley Allen, who plays Sutter through the transitions from an innocent young man to an experienced, street-toughened dude who seeks some sort of psychological revenge for earlier abuse. Playing all the white characters, Nate Miller has a number of fine moments and he even goes full frontal as a troubled fellow named Clint. Holding down (some) of the female roles are India Nicole Burton and Rochelle Jones, and they hit their high point in a sly bit featuring lesbians who are having a non-commitment ceremony, declaring their hatred for each other with smiles on their faces. Funny as it is, that scene drags on too long, as do a couple others. And a second meta-sequence in the second act, where the stage manager intercedes, is just confusing. But when you’re laughing this long and hard at an unrestrained avalanche of profanity, crudity and sly wit, who the fuck cares?
BootycandyThrough April 16, by Convergence-Continuum at The Liminis, 2438 Scranton Rd., 216-687-0074, convergence-continuum.org