In one of the sharpest scenes in “Bootycandy,” Robert O’Hara’s searing and sensationally funny comedy about the sometimes poisonous attitude toward homosexuality in black culture, an adolescent boy hesitantly tells his mother and stepfather that a man tried to follow him home from the library.
The reaction isn’t the concern and outrage we expect, to say the least.
“What was you doing?” his mother suspiciously demands.
Reading a book, comes the meek answer.
“You was just sitting up in a library reading a book, and some man got up and decided to try to follow you home?” she says scornfully.
His stepfather, vaguely hearing this conversation, barely looks up from his paper to mutter his own comment: “You need to take up some sports.”
The scene grows only more bracing and hilarious as the interrogation continues. When the boy, Sutter (Phillip James Brannon), who’s decked out in full Michael Jackson regalia, complete with one sequined glove, reminds his mother that this same man has approached him before, she and his stepfather continue to view his experience as proof of his own wayward behavior.
Why the hell is he reading the likes of Jackie Collins anyway? Why does he play so many Whitney Houston albums? The ultimate solution to this problem of men following him around, proposed by this dismissive mother: “This school year: no musicals.”
“Bootycandy,” which Mr. O’Hara has directed as well, kicks off the season at Playwrights Horizons in New York, where it opened on Wednesday night, with a big, bold bang, underscoring this theater’s reputation as one of the city’s more adventurous incubators of daring playwriting. As raw in its language and raucous in spirit as it is smart and provocative, the play depicts the life of a black gay man in a series of scenes that range widely in style. Many fly wildly into the realm of the absurd, while others are naturalistic pictures of Sutter’s life as he comes to terms with his sexuality and the damage his culture’s attitude toward it may have inflicted on his psyche.
Mr. Brannon plays the central character throughout. Convincing as boy, teenager and man, he modulates his performance with wonderful grace as the tone shifts from scene to scene. Four other terrific actors — Jessica Frances Dukes, Benja Kay Thomas, Lance Coadie Williams and Jesse Pennington — each play several roles, many outrageously comic.
Passages from Sutter’s life alternate with scenes that play upon similar themes. In one, a minister, embodied by Mr. Williams in roof-raising hyper-evangelical mode, admonishes his flock for paying heed to salacious rumors about “sexually perverted” members of the church choir, only to rip off his clerical robes and reveal something rather startling underneath.