Monday, September 15, 2014

Off-Broadway Theater Review: Bootycandy

A Sampler Candy Box of What it is Like Growing Up Black and Gay
By Lauren Yarger
Vignettes drawing on playwright Robert O’Hara’s experiences growing up gay and black fuse together in Bootycandy, a sometimes humorous, sometimes raw production getting an Off-Broadway run at Playwrights Horizons in New York.

Sutter (Phillip James Brannon) is on an outrageous odyssey through his childhood home, his church, dive bars, motel rooms and a nursing home (all getting a spin on the revolving set designed by Clint Ramos, who also designs the costumes) The journey results in laughter, pain and a fresh script that holds our attention despite its difficult content.

O’Hara, who won the NAACP Best Director Award for his work on Eclipsed by Danai Gurira, directs a strongly talented ensemble cast -- Jessica Frances Dukes, Jesse Pennington, Benja Kay Thomas and Lance Coadie Williams – who portray numerous characters in Sutter’s life.
Dukes and Thomas shine as Sutter’s mother at different stages of his live. Time doesn’t change their inability to understand his interest in performing in musicals, dressing oddly to honor his idol Michael Jackson, or attracting the attention of men. His mom really isn’t at ease fielding questions about his private parts, which she calls his bootycandy. His stepfather (Williams) seems oblivious, hiding behind his newspaper, barely giving the young man a glance while suggesting that he take up sports.

His church experience also is odd, with a charismatic preacher (Williams in an energy-filled monologue) coming out in the middle of a sermon – literally in a silver, sequined gown and heels. Neighborhood women aren’t exactly great models either (Thomas and Dukes are a hoot in a Jekyl-and-Hyde, stereotypical phone call conversation among four women).

Sutter’s quest for love and belonging leads him to a seedy bar where he and a companion decide to inflict some pain and humiliation on a white guy (Pennington) looking for love in all the wrong places. The detour into rather disturbing, serious drama is quickly offset – and quite dramatically – by a break in the script, complete with voice over from the stage manager (sound design by Lindsay Jones) to forget about playing that scene out to its end.

Don’t consider that a spoiler. There is more to it. I include the information as proof of the playwright’s ability to keep us interested, despite providing moments where we’re at the end of what we feel we can tolerate or when we are growing tired with a theme. He consistently pulls a switch and prevents us from heading to the exit. The language and situations are very explicit, sometimes politically incorrect and often uncomfortable, but the truth of one human spirit, being vulnerable with us, appeals through it all. A scene between Sutter and his nursing-home-bound Granny (the versatile Williams) is especially touching.

Humor helps, like a scene that pairs Dukes and Thomas again, this time as Intifada and Genitalia, two women having a sort of wedding ceremony to un-commit themselves from their long-term union with the help of a "New Agey," “everything-is-cool” Officiant (Pennington). Also very clever is a break-the-fourth-wall moment where a team of playwrights attends a talk back moderated by a very amusing Pennington, to discuss some of what has taken place so far. It breaks things up at just the right time.

Bootycandy is raw, harsh and cutting edge, but delivers an intelligent message with a sharp script and excellent performances – just the type of production I have come to expect at Playwrights, which isn’t afraid to tackle nontraditional plays. Coming up this season: the word premieres of Grand Concourse by Heidi Schreck, Pocatello by Samuel D. Hunter, Placebo by Melissa James Gibson, Iowa, a new musical play by Jenny Schwartz, music and lyrics by Todd Almond, and The New York premiere of The Qualms by Pulitzer-Prize and Tony Award winner Bruce Norris.

Performances through Oct. 12 Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7 pm, Thursdays and Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2:30 and 8 pm and Sundays at 2:30 and 7:30 pm.  Special Sept. 18 performance for  those age 30 and under  has an early 7 pm curtain. Tickets $75-$95: (212) 279-4200;, box office, 416 West 42nd St. (between Ninth and Tenth avenues).

A special open captioned performance for theatergoers who are deaf and hard of hearing will be held on the Saturday, Sept. 13 matinee at 2:30.

Christians might also like to know:
-- Sexualy explicit scenes and dialogue
-- Suicide
-- Language
-- Use of the "N" word
-- Scripture is used in one scene and altered
-- Sexual actions
-- Nudity
-- Cross Dressing

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. and the Episcopal Actors' Guild.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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