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THEATER REVIEW Bootycandy
by Jonathan Abarbanel, Windy City Times
2017-02-08

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Playwright: Robert O'Hara. At: Windy City Playhouse, 3014 W. Irving Park Road. Tickets: 773-891-8985; WindyCityPlayhouse.com; $15-$55. Runs through: April 15

At intermission, my partner asked about the playwright's intentions. I said, "He's satirizing a lot of things—Black culture, especially, its sometimes-homophobia. Also, he's satirizing plays about Black culture, and white academic reaction to Black plays. And he's doing it all in a self-referential way, probably with some auto-biographical material." And that was just Act I.

Robert O'Hara—who directed his own play ( as he often does )—is sharply original in exploring culture and the Black/white nexus, and he doesn't give a damn about political correctness. His humor can be laugh-out-loud funny, or slashing and wicked. "Seems odd for a Black playwright to have the name O'Malley. How did that happen?" the white academic asks. "Slavery," is the one-word reply. Or, a teenage boy reports that a man followed him home from the library, and receives parental advice to take up baseball ( "You're gonna' have balls in your face," the unwitting mother says ), to stop listening to Whitney Houston and "to start bending your knees when you pick things up."

Bootycandy is loosely structured. Several important Act I characters don't re-appear in Act II, and there's no continuous story or through-line of character development. Some scenes are stand-alone and sketch-like, relating to the play's ideas rather than its story. For instance, in Act I a minister ( Osiris Khepera ) comes out in full drag while preaching to his congregation. In Act II, lesbian couple Intifada ( Krystel McNeil ) and grown-up Genitalia ( Debra Neal ) have a divorce ceremony couched in the vows and style of marriage.

But the core of Bootycandy ( written in 2011 ) chronicles the sexual self-discovery of a gay Black male ( Travis Turner ) from boyhood to adulthood; from naively asking adults what certain words mean, to his first seduction ( by a white man ), to his relationship with his white brother-in-law ( Rob Fenton, in several roles ), to sexual aggression with a drunk-but-willing white male. Act II grows increasingly somber and Bootycandy concludes in a solemn way.

Occasionally, the central figure also is the playwright, reflecting the autobiographical element. Bootycandy is very smart and often funny but it's not a happy play. Part of its subtext is sex as an extension of racism ( both white and Black ), a veritable psychosexual minefield. You end up with a conflicted man finding little comprehension within the Black community but clearly aware that crossing sexual/racial lines can lead to sometimes-mutual exploitation.

O'Hara achieves all this with a meta-theatrical style fully embraced by his actors, often with intentionally exaggerated acting, on Katie-Bell Kenney's simple and comic strip-like scenic design. Excellent original music/sound by Lindsay Jones. Bootycandy entertains and provokes, but definitely is not for prudes.


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