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I didn’t know much heading into Woolly Mammoth’s latest production on purpose.  I just figured anything with the name Bootycandy must be seen to be understood.  And I was partially correct – Bootycandy should be seen (and clean!), but most of the understanding is deeply personal to both to an audience member and the playwright.

Bootycandy is a series of 10 spontaneous sketches that deliriously travel through the mind of playwright Robert O’Hara. The last show in Season 31, a “focused and poignant exploration of our attitudes toward gender, age, race, and sexuality in a manner that’s uniquely Woolly,” Bootycandy makes the boundaries of gender and racial identity politics pliable through satire, wit, brutal honesty, nostalgia, dream-like fantasy and, most importantly, self-deprecating humor.

Before even entering the theatre, audience members are asked to fill out a name tag with the trait that best describes themselves (Upon taking my seat, I notice I am “girl” in a sea of “gay” and “queen,” which is essentially my social life).  All in all, “closeted,” “SCARED,” and “bitchin” are among the minority of words slapped on peoples’ chests beyond sexual-orientation, gender age and racial categories – a sign the audience already has a pretty deep connection with the Season theme.  The program, “The New Revised Abridged Oxford English Dictionary of Bootycandy, First Edition,” includes terms and definitions appearing throughout the show, including RuPaul, Matthew Shephard and of course, Bootycandy: noun 1) childhood term for the male genitalia, used by the mother an grandmother of the gay playwright of this play you are about to watch.  There are no character names, acts or scenes listed.  Between the “dictionary,” glossy raked stage, blasting disco music (which included Diana Ross’s “Love Hangover”) and glitter encrusted proscenium, the “differentness” of Bootycandy is blatantly established before the play even begins.

Already I’m asking myself questions, which, throughout its discombobulating, bombastic and hilarious 2 hour run, proves to be the goal of Bootycandy:  Question.  Everything. Yourself, your elders, your friends, your family, societal constructions, social norms, the guy who’s trying to mug you.  The medium of theatre and the role of an audience.

The entire first vignette is a stream of questioning by a very young son, presumably O’Hara and his mother.  While changing him out of his Superman jammies into a warm outfit, a no-nonsense mom deflects questions about penises and blowjobs, commanding her son to mind his mouth and keep his bootycandy clean.  The hilarious conversation sets an autobiographical tone that weaves in and out of the entire show.  Between each piece, the five person cast transforms into a wide spectrum and combination of “types:” child, adolescent, elderly, black, white, gay, straight, transvestite, open, closeted, sane, unstable, rich, poor – almost identical to the words stuck all over audience.

Initially, the first act seems like a random mix of mini-plays about a cross-dressing preacher, a teenage mom who wants to name her daughter “Genitalia,” a gay dude in love with his straight best friend (who is also his brother-in-law, who flirts with him) and a man who fends off getting robbed by getting socratic with his attacker.  The act ends with the audience becoming part of “a conference” featuring a panel of black playwrights who authored the entire first act.  Got that?

Bootycandy is entirely unpredictable and swerves in and out of traditional narrative form from beginning to end.  The second act includes a destination un-commitment ceremony between a grownup Genitalia (referenced in the first act) and her partner, which combines all the hate and animosity of a nasty divorce with ridiculously funny comedy.  The second act gains a clattering momentum when two gay black friends encounter an unbalanced and bi-curious white guy at a bar.  The act suddenly goes dark – very dark – and reaches a releaving breaking point, during which the fourth wall is broken again.  The production stops and, after the performers take a breath, lands in the arms of O’Hara’s aging granny in her nursing home.

The show is tailor-made for the Woolly cast.  Combined with detailed costuming and staging, the 5 players are impressive shape-shifters.  All of them.  The anticipation of “who are they going to be next?” provides constant entertainment.  At one point, the only two actresses in the show (Jessica Frances Dukes and Laiona Michelle) become 4 different aged women having 2 phone conversations at the same time.  In the second act, Dukes almost freakishly tricks you into thinking they subbed in a small 7-year-old child actor to sit at a table and play while grown-ups make a scene in McDonald’s.  The illusion, along with the whole scene, is amazing.

Bootycandy is a wild ride and fantastic production that is definately worth seeing.  Post-show discussions will occur on:

  • Wednesday, June 8th after 8pm show
  • Sunday, June 12th after the 3pm show
  • Thursday, June 16th after the 8pm show