All I knew about Bootycandy was that it was a very funny, very raunchy series of vignettes about growing up gay and black in America. Already I was intrigued: it would undoubtedly have an entirely different perspective than many of the plays I attend. (Like many other theatergoers, I see a lot of shows written by white guys. Often dead white guys.) Though I was a little worried about the raunchy stuff. Was this show going to be more than this prim and proper librarian could handle?
As it turns out, I could handle it just fine — it wasn’t THAT raunchy — and as I’d hoped, Bootycandy proved to be a pretty rich theatrical experience. You think it’s just a series of comedic sketches at first: playwright/director Robert O’Hara skewers life in a black family, growing up gay, wedding ceremonies, the theatrical establishment, and more. Quickly, though, it becomes clear that this show is even cleverer and more ambitious than you had thought. Each sketch is interwoven with the larger whole, with callbacks to prior moments and clues that might be explained a later scene. Plus it’s writerly. By that I mean there are many nods to the writing process or to norms of theater. In one scene, for example, four different cast members come out as different representations of Sutter (Phillip James Brannon), who is himself a stand-in for the playwright, Robert O’Hara. See what I mean? Writerly.
The other thing you need to know about Bootycandy is that it’s joyous. Without spoiling too much, I just point you towards the scene “Genitalia”, titled after the name a young mother decides to give her baby. Two actresses perform four characters in this scene, to hilarious effect.
On the other hand: I didn’t entirely warm to the play. To begin with, O’Hara’s comic sensibilities didn’t always jibe with mine, so I wasn’t laughing quite as hard as many in the audience were. And I felt that many — actually most — of the sketches went on far too long. In fact, I suspect the whole thing would have been punchier had it clocked in at 90 minutes rather than 2:15. What’s more, it frequently felt a little too self-referential. At one point the cast comes onstage to tell the author’s stand-in that a plot twist was too harsh and unearned. If I had joined them onstage, I would have said that I didn’t mind the plot twist but all the self-conscious writing references were slathered on a bit thick.
Even so, I’m very glad to have seen it, mostly for its raucous humor and big ideas. Even if this show doesn’t always work, it’s a big success for Playwrights Horizons. Artistically speaking, of course.
My Grade: B-
Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes (including intermission)
Ticket price: $36.50 on TDF
Worth it: Basically*
Standing Ovation Watch: No
* – Worth the $36.50? Yes. Would it be worth much more than that? No. And to see Bootycandy I actually gave up a fun, beery afternoon with a friend on her last day in town, so in terms of time it wasn’t necessarily worth it. Any other day, though, and the answer would have been a more straightforward “Sure.”