Robert O’Hara’s collection of interconnected sketches, loosely organized around a character standing in for the playwright’s experiences growing up black and gay in the South, evokes George C. Wolfe’s similarly structured The Colored Museum from two decades earlier. One of Bootycandy’s individually titled scenes, “The Last Gay Play,” even seems to directly reference Museum’s “The Last Momma-on-the-Couch Play.” When the final scene of the first act is styled as a playwrights’ panel with a white male moderator asking writers of color to explain everything we’ve seen up to that point, it’s clear O’Hara is here to interrogate the relationship between institutional theater and individual identity.
But while Bootycandy isn’t a traditional theatrical narrative, it’s also far from academic exercise. In Windy City Playhouse’s Chicago premiere, directed by O’Hara, it’s bitingly funny, provocative, uncomfortable and engrossing. From Osiris Khepera’s fiery sermon about alleged homosexuals in the church choir and Krystel McNeil and Debrah Neal’s jokey, multicharacter telephone sketch, O’Hara quickly establishes we’re in for an evening as uproarious as it is interrogative. Rob Fenton shows off his range with an array of characters often set up in opposition to the indispensable Travis Turner, in the role representing a version of O’Hara himself; Turner’s innate intelligence and charm are necessary leavening for some of O’Hara’s more abrasive moves. With an intersectional, unpredictable view of finding a way to fit into the world, Bootycandy is sweet and tart, with plenty to chew on.
Windy City Playhouse. Written and directed by Robert O’Hara. With Travis Turner, Rob Fenton, Osiris Khepera, Krystel McNeil, Debrah Neal. Running time: 2hrs 15mins; one intermission.