Phillip James Brannon, Lance Coadie Williams, Benja Kay Thomas and Jocelyn Bioh in a scene from the Wilma Theatre's production of Booty Candy (photo by Alexander Iziliaev)
Playwright Robert O'Hara's tagline in the program of Booty Candy is "Everyone is welcome, no one is safe," and he also says that if people aren't walking out of the theater, it isn't theater. People may have been in the aisle during this riotous play, but only because they were falling out of their seats laughing. O'Hara's take-no-prisoners comedy is a mashup of subversive camp and scabrous satire seemingly appreciated on every level intended. O'Hara is an in-demand playwright whose play Antebellum won the Helen Hayes Award for outstanding new play in 2010.
Booty Candy chronicles the travails of Sutter, a shy, disaffected, gay black youth who retreats into his private world after being shamed and ignored by his family. The play is structured in vignettes from childhood, adolescence and adulthood, when he is a cynical, continually frustrated gay man engaged in a series of emotionally painful affairs.
The playwright skewers and vamps racial and sexual stereotypes of black church culture, urban angst, bar-trawling gays, feuding lesbians, ladyboy camp and morbidly closeted white men on the down-down-down-low, just to mention a few cultural targets.
Not to give anything away, but Ross Beschler portrays a series of closeted, sexually conflicted white men with wry crassness. Let's just say that he ultimately lays everything on the table. There are so many unexpected sharp turns that at one point, even the characters revolt (paging Pirandello). Even this immensely talented playwright admits that he can go too, too far over the top.
O'Hara, an NAACP Best Director awardee, also directs Booty Candy's Wilma production, and he orchestrates past his raunchy laugh lines with strong character humor and biting social editorial. The five versatile actors who make up the cast play an array of characters, and they prove that they are comedically versatile.
Brannon is the only actor who doesn't switch roles, playing Sutter in various time-traveling episodes in his life. Like other teens in the '80s, he wears red chinos and a sequined single glove, his hair GCed for days, and he is obsessed with Michael Jackson.
Later, when he tries to turn the tables on hapless closet cases and have some fun, his bitterness is revealed. His mother, played at different ages with cutting tenderness by Jocelyn Bioh and Benja Kay Thomas, is officially in denial about his sexuality, but at one point Thomas fires off a laundry list of specific things he needs to do: No more school musicals! Stop listening to Whitney Houston! Stop reading Jackie Collins! Play with balls! Brannon's slow burn to this chapter and verse about how not to butch up is priceless.
As Sutter, Phillip James Brannon dives into the sketchy dramatic exposition O'Hara builds, even when some of it flatlines. One of the thorniest and horniest is a confusing episode where Sutter is involved with a father and his adult son and breaks up with the son. Brannon is so visceral and operatic in this scene, more than tears of a clown.
In one scene Bioh and Thomas portray four women (depending on which profile faces downstage) on the phone discussing a relative who plans to name her baby Genitalia. The costume illusion harkens back to drag vaudeville. Later, Bioh and Thomas are toxic as a battling lesbian couple getting a divorce. And the remarkable Lance Coadie Williams plays Sutter's father and his drag queen/trans BBF and is most inspired as he takes us all to church. This moment shouldn't be spoiled by description, but he gets an "amen!" with a triple E-pump to heaven.
O'Hara writes a full-throated comedy, but some of the scenes go too long, and the play would be strengthened with some structural adjustment, but fortunately, his well-written character comedy saves him at every turn, revealing some mighty real truths, not to mention some fierce sight gags.