Catastrophic Theatre’s ‘Bootycandy’ is a sweet surprise
The brand of daring typically showcased at the Catastrophic Theatre is a blend of dark humor, experimentalism and Gen-X nihilism, packed into some twisted little play from Wallace Shawn or Sam Shepard. But the company hardly has a track record to prepare you for someone like Robert O’Hara.
O’Hara, a black queer playwright and director based in New York City, shares with the Catastrophic a flair for absurdism, but he pushes far more buttons on the topics of sexuality and race. Not that O’Hara’s 2011 play “Bootycandy,” at the MATCH through March 10, is one of those issue plays, which deliver noncomplex political messages about “being different” in the form of a Greek tragedy. Some of those are very good.
But O’Hara is uninterested in lumping black queerness into any easy category of art. In “Bootycandy,” black queerness is simply everyday life, an existence too funny, weird and R-rated to be associated with the broad notion of “diversity.”
“Bootycandy” is a series of vignettes about growing up as a gay black man around the 1980s. At least, that’s the inspiration for the multitude of sketches that are featured one after another. Xzavien Hollins plays Sutter, who appears in the first scene as a young boy asking his mother about his penis. Sutter returns as a teenager confessing a moment of trauma to his unflinching, homophobic family, and later as a grown adult involved in an affair.
But beyond the core story, the play (directed by Vance Johnson) offers a grab bag of jokes, monologues and impressions — giving this two-hour affair the quick-fire energy of a “Saturday Night Live” episode.
Brittny Bush and Mara McGhee switch off on several hilariously drawn characters, including a woman who decides to name her daughter Genitalia. Gabriel Regojo brings a quiet, serious energy to the production. He has a vulnerable and electric intensity as he sits across a table from Hollins, trading erotic and sometimes threatening words.
Then there’s the preacher, played by the terrific Domonique L. Champion, who commands the room and transforms in front of our eyes. The preacher is a delightful creation, epitomizing O’Hara’s taste for rebellion, and Champion steps into those (bright pink) shoes with ease.
What these scenes add up to is more than the sum of its parts. Taken separately, the various sketches in “Bootycandy” amount to several well-written but disconnected 10-minute plays. But taken together, O’Hara’s voice rings loudly as a call to inject more surprise, eroticism and boldness into theater. The Catastrophic has done so for its stage here by bringing a Robert O’Hara play to Houston.