Not Exactly Louisa May Alcott
Part of the Intiman Festival, Bootycandy by Robert O’Hara opened at the The Cornish Playhouse Studio, also called the Alhadeff Studio Theatre at Seattle Center on September 17. It is a series of connected and extraneous sketches more or less about growing up black and gay in New York in the 70’s and 80’s. However, the content focused on the more sordid experiences of promiscuous gay men, rather than the specifics of gay men in that specific ethnic sub-culture.
The scenes more or less trace the evolution of Sutter, a black gay man, initially being raised by a single mother, but who later acquires a step-father and sister, who goes through various gruesome episodes. Recounted non-linearly they were: being sodomized at 16 by his sister’s future father-in-law ( off-stage) , having an affair with his brother-in-law, various pick-up scenes in bars, TMI ( too much information) conversations about the precise anatomical details of foreplay and sodomy, and the horrific suicide of a mentally ill “pick-up” he had just raped with an instrument. (off-stage)
There were various extraneous sketches thrown in, which had some funny lines, but were mostly tediously unpleasant, as they were funny for 30 seconds but then got repetitive. For example, there was a parody of a wedding, but it was a divorce decree of a lesbian couple. A pastor with one of those lovingly sweet voices presided, at first it was amusing, but it went on and on with a huge amount of unnecessary hatred and aggression. The Director, Malika Oyetimein, needed to make some cuts in that scene and in many of the others.
The script suffered because it lacked a central protagonist, character development, a developed plot and most importantly was completely devoid of love and positive emotions. I left the theatre no more enlightened about the reality of gay men, raised in the black community, than I did before I went in. N.B. There have been some gay-themed plays about Mormon and Evangelical sub-cultures I have seen lately, which did enlighten me.
The strength of the production was in the acting of the ensemble cast, especially the amazing, astonishing, extraordinary performance of Josiah Johnson, who played a variety of roles including a black Baptist preacher, who transforms himself, at the pulpit, in front of his congregation, into a drag queen. Also, in the best scene, at the end of the show, he played an 85 year old black grandmother, of the old school, who had had 12 children, and spoke with a rural southern accent. In addition, he played one of the few characters in the play, who got beyond the stereotypical and caricatured by demonstrating a full range of human emotions as Ray, about the only character who expressed compassion and remorse for some heinous deeds.
His sheer vocal ability both as the pastor and the grandmother were stellar; he was right up there with Martin Luther King and the other great Southern black orators and as the grandmother his command of the dialect, playing a female no less, was truly awesome.
The rest of the cast was up to the task as they swiftly changed characters; Chris Ensweiler put in a great performance as a swarmy repulsive white playwrighting conference moderator, a mentally ill disturbed gay man, and various other characters.
The two female actors Rebecca M. Davis and Angel Brice, were geniuses at disguise and played a dozen or so different characters by changing not just costumes and hair-styles but also accents and physicality. I still can’t believe that only two actors played all those different characters.
Tyler Trerise as Sutter the main character, never got beyond the stereotypical and as a result, he evoked very little sympathy from the audience, especially when his cruel streak took over his personality.
As a word of warning, there are various attempts to gross-out the audience with gratuitous nudity, predictable TMI and lots of profanity. Obviously there are some people who don’t mind that sort of thing, and there have been a lot of good reviews of this play, so perhaps I am just not in the right demographic or maybe I have run into too many older psychologically healthy domesticated monogamous gay couples.
When I left, I didn’t reach for a revolver, instead I had an urge to read Louisa May Alcott. Bootycandy was that morally repugnant.
Bootycandy. Intiman Festival. The Cornish Playhouse Studio- Alhadeff Studio ( behind the Cornish Playhouse) Seattle Center. 300 Harrison Seattle, WA 98109 Sept. 17 to Oct. 3, 2015, Tues-Sun 7:30. Late-Nite Fri, Sat Oct 2, 3, 10:30 pm. ASL Interp. Thurs. Oct. 1.
Tickets: www.intiman.org, . (206) 441-7178