BY STEVE WONG
As a little black boy, Sutter asked his mamma, “Why do you call my d*** bootycandy?”
From the mouths of babes to a teenager feeding his institutionalized grandmother orgasmic soul food ordered from his iPhone, the play Bootycandy gives us several personal, explicit, and hysterical black-and-gay experiences without a flinch of embarrassment. Thanks to Proud Mary Theatre Company, Upstate South Carolina has again been poked to be woke. The Off Broadway play has been seen at Greenville’s Coffee Underground and Artists Collective | Spartanburg, Aug. 16-24.
Written by black playwright Robert O’Hara and first staged in 2011 in Washington, DC, Bootycandy is a series of short vignettes that are at first insightful, funny, and jaw-dropping but seemingly unrelated, other than being about black and and sexual. There are six actors; two women and four men; five are black and one is a white guy. Each actor plays several different characters, who eventually, we come to realize, are presented at different times of their lives, from early childhood to very old. The semi-autobiographical vignettes explore different aspects of the black experience of the main character Sutter, even though he is not in every vignette, such as when the women rant via telephone about the outrageousness of another woman naming her baby “Genitalia.”
Set in the 1970s to the 2000s, Bootycandy is all about the pain and pleasure of being black and gay. Inasmuch that “Genitalia” has the audience gasping for breath in between laughs, other stories are tragic. The third scene in the second act, “Last Gay Play,” is undoubtedly the most revealing and disturbing in the collection. Here Sutter is a grown man out drinking with another black and gay man when a drunk white man approaches them in search of a hook-up. The situation is obvious, and Sutter is game to “play” with the drunk. After a few rounds of Truth or Dare (On a dare the white guy laid his penis on the table with his back to the audience.), the three of them go to the white guy’s motel room for a three-way. As the encounter becomes sketchier and sketchier, the desperately horny white man comes out of the motel room wearing a black jock only to be rejected — at first. Eventually, the black men give the white man what he wants: He’s held down and raped with a large dildo, resulting in his jumping off the building, committing suicide. Everyone — including the audience — is left wondering just how to process what has just happened. Personally, I am grateful the rape was not staged, only talked about by the men back at the bar.
Proud Mary Theatre Company has a reputation for presenting the full spectrum of LGBTQ+ plays, from silly musicals to serious dramas. With Bootycandy, the company has again pried open the judgemental eyes of the Old South to see what many would rather not see, much less understand. Directed by two of the actors — Schuyler J. Carson and Kristofer Parker, who plays Sutter — Bootycandy can be an uncomfortable comedy. Despite working on small sets with minimal fuss, the cast members are extraordinary. Parker is amazing, playing the different stages of life of an African-American gay man, influenced by his family, friends, church, and society. He goes from a Jackson 5 wannabe child to a loving and patient young man coping with a cantankerous grandmother. As an actor, he has played many roles at several regional theaters and repeatedly commended for his talent. This is his first time acting and directing with Proud Mary.
Carson was last seen in Proud Mary’s production as the queen in the musical Head Over Heels. For more than 20 years, she has graced the stages of the Southeast. I’ve now seen her twice on the stage, and each time, I’ve been blown away by her depth, talent, and daring. She is also a Board member for Proud Mary.
Brian Reeder shows the range of his talent in Bootycandy, playing a charismatic and crossdressing preacher in the pulpit to Old Granny, with a hankering for soul food. He is truly inspiring as the cross-dressing Rev. Benson in “Dreamin’ In Church” with excellent pacing and character building. He has been a professional actor since he was 17 years old and his roles in regional theater are legion, most recently portraying “Othello” at The Warehouse Theatre’s Upstate Shakespeare Festival.
Regina Wells is a 2016 theatre graduate from Furman University, and this is her debut with Proud Mary. She holds her own well when paired with veteran Carson-Jackson during their rapid-fire telephone conversation and again playing two lesbians officially breaking up her relationship in “Ceremony.” Certainly hope to see this young woman on stage again.
Bootcandy is Dexter Simmons’ third time on Proud Mary’s stage, having been in Southern Baptist Sissies and The Kiss. As this play eventually breaks through theatre’s fourth wall in the second act, Simmons is the most remembered writer, snapping his folding fan and wearing colorful garb. The Clinton native shows great promise with his diverse attitudes.
As the only white member of the cast, Tyler Smith stands out, especially standing outside a motel room wearing next to nothing. His roles are vital to Bootycandy, representing different aspects of not understanding the black experience. He was most excellent in “Mug,” a nice piece that makes us reconsider our assumptions about criminals and victims. His past roles have been with Proud Mary in Boy and The Laramie Project. He’s also performed with Younts Center for Performing Arts.
As an older white/Asian man and a son of The South, I highly recommend Bootycandy. It made me consider how I think about and react to race relations. Granted, it was at times a bit shocking, and there are elements I’m still not sure I get. This has happened more than once as I continue to see Proud Mary productions, and one of the reasons I keep going back. As with many such productions, Bootycandy made me laugh, made me uncomfortable, made me realize there is more to the black and gay experience thant I originally thought. If you have not seen a Proud Mary production — no matter what your race or sex — I encourage you take a walk on the wild side. Live theatre can change you and make the world a better place.
Bootycandy has closed but check out Proud Mary Theatre’s 6th season of LGBTQIA+ performances including Kinky Boots and 5 Lesbians Eating A Quiche at proudmarytheatre.com.