‘Bootycandy’ makes its way to Wilma Theater

For the first time ever, Robert O’Hara, who has directed plays before at the Wilma Theater, will have one that he’s written taking the stage there. “Bootycandy” will be presented May 15 through June 16 at the Center City venue.

The play looks behind a tall church pulpit, where a fire-and-brimstone preacher delivers a shocking sermon to his congregation.

On the tropical sands of a deserted island, two lesbians come together. And, at the home of a young boy a mother scolds her son for reading Jackie Collins romance novels.

This is just a taste of playwright O’Hara’s imaginative anthology of sassy lessons in sex ed, a kaleidoscope of sketches that interconnect to portray growing up gay and African-American.

The play’s title, says the multi-award winner, including the 2010 NAACP Best Director Award for his direction of “Eclipsed,” is a reference to his childhood days when his mother and grandmother used that as a word for male genitals.

“Growing up, my mother would say, ‘don’t forget to wash your Bootycandy,’” O’Hara explains. “Looking back, my mother said she called it ‘boo boo candy,’ but I think she’s just trying to rewrite history.”

Living in Cincinnati, Ohio, and “escaping it at age 18,” O’Hara said he first wanted to be a lawyer because he liked watching the lawyer shows on TV. But always writing and directing, although he never thought of them as viable career choices, O’Hara soon changed his mind and changed his major from law to English to drama.

“From then on, I knew I wanted to become a director and writer. So I got my undergraduate degree at Tufts University and eventually my MFA in directing from Columbia University,” he recalled.

In addition to his other work, O’Hara has written a Richard Pryor biopic for Martin Scorsese, and a play about Pearl Bailey.

“I’d like to do even more,” he said, “including one on Whitney Houston. Scorsese once told me, ‘You don’t have to write everything from birth to death. Just find something that’s emblematic of their life, and what we think we know about them, and the rest will take care of itself.’”

Over the years, O’Hara has received many awards and accolades, including the 2010 Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding New Play for “Antebellum,” and an OBIE Award for his direction of the world premiere, critically acclaimed “In The Continuum.”

Asked what he considers the secret to a long life in the theater, O’Hara says with a laugh, “Rum and Coke. In that order. Of course, I’m kidding. The real answer is to find and do something that makes you happy and that means not just theater but your life as well. I have a loving partnership. I like where I live. I have many friends. You can’t make theater, or any one thing for that matter, your whole life. You have to build around it and then you can appreciate what you are doing.”

For times and ticket information, call (215) 546-7824.