Robert O’Hara’s Bootycandy, a series of sketches on the theme of being black and gay in modern America, plays like a particularly subversive episode of Saturday Night Live. The show, playing through Oct. 12 at Off Broadway’s Playwrights Horizons, is often laugh-out-loud funny, with a cutting satiric edge that recalls George C. Wolfe’s The Colored Museum.
Many scenes center on Sutter (Phillip James Brannon), an apparent stand-in for O’Hara whose boyhood obsessions with Michael Jackson and the novels of Jackie Collins underscore an estrangement from his family and much of African American society. ”How do you expect to get a woman when you grow up when all you do is read?” his clueless stepfather (Lance Coadie Williams) asks at the kitchen table.
Williams goes even farther in a sketch about a preacher whose sermon about church gossipers leads to a bewigged coming-out. Another scene depicts a ceremony of conscious uncoupling that would give Gywneth Paltrow palpitations. A lesbian couple pledges their non-commitment in a beachside service that quickly devolves into outright animosity. ”Wherever you go, I will not be there,” says one, to which the other replies, ”What you have said to me, I now say back to you and would like to add that you F— Yourself.” The couple is played by the terrific Jessica Frances Dukes and Benja Kay Thomas, who don multiple roles (and wigs) in Bootycandy, sometimes in the very same scene.
But like many a SNL episode, even the best sketches tend to drag on just a little too long. O’Hara is a talented writer with a rapier wit, but his direction vacillates between spot-on and slightly too broad. One wishes that he had employed a director who could have helped him hone his fine material into a tighter, sharper edge. Another director might have also advised him against a second act gear-shift that comes out of nowhere and grinds both the comedy and the social commentary to a halt. It just doesn’t fit the character of the Sutter he’s created, the one who sleeps with the wrong guys and who sneaks a BBQ dinner into his grandmother’s nursing home. B