“Bootycandy” at Wilma is vulgar, funny and uncomfortably serious

How much stock can you put in a name?

The title of this play is “Bootycandy,” a series of 11 scathingly funny, raw micro-plays by New York-based playwright and director Robert O’Hara.

And if you’re wondering what exactly the word “Bootycandy” refers to, don’t fret, you won’t be the only one not to know as you’re waiting for the show to begin. But you will know within minutes of the first short play. And once you know, you’re certain to be laughing along with everyone else.

In the playwright’s words, “Bootycandy examines how we speak about sex in public and private, in religious and secular situations, with family, with friends, with lovers. Each piece extends the storyline and changes what we thought we just saw.”

O’Hara’s script, loosely based on his own experiences, holds a mirror up to the experience of being black and gay.

He has a passion for deconstruction; as he reflects on his life, he breaks up the pieces of his story before he pulls them all back together.

Five performers over the course of 11 vignettes toy with language, sexuality, racial identity and the labels that define us, in blunt, caustic and unexpected ways.

In “Bootycandy,” O’Hara details how a euphemism shaped his sexual identity and view of the world. Hilarious, tasteless and shocking, “Bootycandy” Breaks taboos in the same manner as John Waters’ cult movie “Pink Flamingos.” This is not for the faint of heart or those who wish to be politically correct. In the most poetic of ways, it can be vulgar, funny and uncomfortably serious.

O’Hara has a unique grasp of sound and sense. His dialogue, particularly in the first act has a staccato rhythm, a cadence that has both point and counter point.

Each of the short scenes centers on a farcical error of communication that either worsens or improves, but always in ways that edge on the surreal, as the characters struggle to address it. Each packs a colorful punch with profane language of just about every kind in the book as one outrageous character after another makes an appearance and steals the show.

One of the vignettes depicts an “un-commitment ceremony,” in which a lesbian couple endeavors to sever the ties that bond in an uproarious butchering of traditional marriage vows. They not only want to be exes, but “ex-lax” and purged from each other body and soul.

The five-person ensemble keep the show going with quick wit and slick costume changes, never letting the show stop for a single beat. The group of Jocelyn Bioh, Phillip James Brannon, Lance Coadie Williams, Benja Kay Thomas, and Ross Beschler all have their moments, however, Brannon’s performance as Sutter must be highlighted. As O’Hara’s alter ego Brannon hits a full range of emotions that is remarkable.

Clint Ramos’ revolving set that picture frames each of the scenes is a clever and very effective design. In a scene called “Genitalia,” he has two women dressed in a dual costume flipping characters as they change profiles. Bioh and Thomas reverse characters and personalities with spit second precision.

On top of its more raunchy and over-the-top character bits, “Bootycandy” manages to push the envelope of theatrical convention breaking of the fourth wall as it directly addresses the audience.

It is startling in frankness and subject matter and is most powerful when it makes things uncomfortable. It is work, for the actors and the audience. it is not for everyone, but it is certainly thought provoking. Some will call this play “provocative” and others “offensive.” I quickly got over the shock-value of this piece and found it has much to offer.

“Bootycandy” continues at the Wilma Theater, 265 South Broad Street in Philadelphia through June 16, 2013. Tickets: $39 - $66. Information: 215-546-7824 or wilmatheater.org.