Bootycandy Review

Theatre can be exceptional in all sorts of ways. Strong casts, a gripping plot, stunning set design, or an innovative storytelling method are all ways that a play can set itself apart from the pack. The Wilma Theatre’s newest play, "Bootycandy," can lay claim to an astonishing mixture of these things that made for one of the most interesting and enjoyable theatre experiences I have had this entire season.

"Bootycandy" is a series of short vignettes that detail different moments of the process of growing up gay and African American from various points of view. However, as the play is persistent (and correct) in pointing out, this not simply a gay play or an African-American play just by virtue of focusing on characters that fit into these demographics. It is more of a shockingly diverse approach to storytelling, one that more closely resembles how we think of the pivotal moments in our lives.

The stories include a homosexual preacher addressing his congregation with a tireless rant, a closeted man having a sexual relationship with his wife’s brother, a woman’s unfortunate name for her baby and how her friends and family react, as well as the aftermath of all of these decisions. Regardless of whether these scenes left the audience stunned into silence, cheering along with the characters, or roaring with laughter, each was inventively executed and packed with humane and heartfelt dialogue.

The presentation of these scenes was interesting in that with five or six vignettes per act, the scenes were constantly changing, and in the first act they seemed unrelated. As the second act sets in, however, it becomes clear that all of these moments are tied together and have a direct effect on each other.

It is a shockingly diverse approach to storytelling, one that more closely resembles how we think of the pivotal moments in our lives.

It is a credit to the play that this is done with absolute subtlety. Instead there is an emphasis on the deep-seated psychosis of the characters that cause their behavior, providing a much more stunning and insightful presentation of the gay, black experience than I have ever seen before in theatre.

Such strong material would shine through in any production, but the Wilma’s typically inventive staging was a great asset to the presentation of the show. A rotating set that took up the entire stage was used to rapidly change the scenes, warping through time to present important moments in the characters’ lives. In certain vignettes, it even allowed the actors to move from a bar to a hotel room within seconds, an impressive and helpful aid in the fluidity of the storyline.

Similar to the staging, the cast was essential in the execution of the play. In less capable hands, the hysterical preacher scene could have come off meandering and high strung. Without sincerity, the brother-in-law sleeping with his wife’s brother would have lost its sense of redemption and empathy. Each scene demanded compassion, emotion, and intelligence, and the cast of "Bootycandy" whirled through their characters with all of that to spare. With upwards of eight or nine characters apiece, this was an incredible achievement to watch.

"Bootycandy" was the type of show that left me speechless and grasping for a way to comprehend everything I had just watched. So nuanced is the plot and diverse the approach, it will take multiple views to truly appreciate and understand everything that was presented. In one of the vignettes where the actors smartly address the show and treat the audience as a writing convention, they make the point that a work like this is not to be swallowed easily. You should choke on it, fight to digest it, and finally feel the space it took up in you as it flows through you.

At the time in the play this was said, it seemed somewhat dramatic and self-congratulating. But leaving "Bootycandy," that is precisely how I felt. It was a work of art that entertained, endeared itself and left the audience with something substantial to chew on. Truly a play not to be missed.