Theater

‘Bootycandy’ Sizzles And Shocks At Windy City Playhouse

Travis Turner in 'Bootcandy,' running through April 15 at Windy City Playhouse. Courtesy of Michael Brosilow

“Bootycandy,” a new production playing at the Windy City Playhouse (3014 W. Irving Park Rd.), is a semi-autobiographical account of the life of the successful director and writer Robert O’Hara, who grew up a gay black man. O’Hara, the recipient of many awards, has crafted “Bootycandy” with shocking, provocative and raw humor.

“Bootycandy” addresses modern-day stereotypes toward gay and black people. O’Hara takes stereotypes that might seem hurtful and transforms them into a candid comical medium that audiences can laugh at and, most importantly, understand. While “Bootycandy” had me laughing uncontrollably, it prompted me to question society and how much these stereotypes are ingrained into our society.

Travis Turner, Osiris Khepera, Debrah Neal and Krystel McNeil in ‘Bootycandy.’

The play follows the life of Sutter, played by Travis Turner, and begins when he’s just a young, naive boy. Turner’s performance was nothing to write home about, but it was fit for the role and changed with the character’s age. Turner was frank and sincere with his acting, allowing audiences to comprehend the character of Sutter well.

The second scene of the play opened to Reverend Benson (Osiris Khepera), who gives a sermon to the audience. In Benson’s speech, he complains to the church about how the choir boys have been seen hanging out, hugging and sometimes kissing. After addressing every stereotype gay men have faced, Benson enthusiastically yells that these boys should not be afraid of who they are or how they act.

Benson then explosively reveals he’s wearing heels and a gold sequin dress. Then he puts on a wig, exclaiming he too was tired of pretending to be someone he wasn’t. The second scene was filled with engaging enthusiasm from the flamboyant Khepera.

“Conference,” the last scene in act one, featured all of the actors. While watching, I was confused to see the play break from the story line. The five actors sat lined up on stage and played out a conference of playwrights. But there was a catch: When asked about the plays they wrote, they each discuessed the individual scenes that had been already shown. This scene is just one element that sets “Bootycandy” apart from other plays. “Conference” takes a step away from the traditional play, giving O’Hara an edge to playwriting.

Debrah Neal, Rob Fenton and Krystel McNeil in ‘Bootycandy,’ which runs through April 15 at Windy City Playhouse. Courtesy of Michael Brosilow

The first act was entertaining, but seemed difficult to follow. Act two opened up with a scene titled “Happy Meal.” By the looks of the vibrant clothing, sweaters with geometric shapes and Sutter’s jheri curl, it was easy to tell this scene took place in the 1980s. Sutter’s mother firmly yelled at him to stop listening to Michael Jackson and Madonna, put down the Jackie Collins book he was reading and to start playing sports.

The title of the scene is a juxtaposition because the meal is the opposite of happy. The audience receives insight as to what life was like for Sutter as teenager. During these developmental years of Sutter’s life, it was upsetting to see how much backlash he got from exploring his interests.

The environment of “Bootycandy” was inclusive and beyond entertaining, and the intimate setting allowed the audience to feel part of the show. I felt a connection with the actors.

Going in, I expected a crisp, clean storyline, given the description of a naive boy learning the meaning of love, life and sex while struggling with his race and sexuality. The play didn’t focus on the day-to-day life of Sutter, but more of the influential events in his life. I believe this held the audience’s attention more, forcing them to pay attention. With each scene, I was eager to see what “Bootycandy” had to offer.

Osiris Khepera in ‘Bootcandy,’ running through April 15 at Windy City Playhouse. Courtesy of Michael Brosilow

“Bootycandy” is astonishing, shocking and appalling in a thought-provoking way that makes you question our society. O’Hara uses theatrical comedy as a gateway to share these stereotypes and struggles that minorities experience daily.

The final interaction introduced Sutter’s grandmother in her nursing home. They both recall a dance Sutter would do when he was younger, imitating Michael Jackson. His grandmother encourages him to “do that dance,” even though he was once ridiculed for it.

The underlying meaning behind this is Sutter’s sexuality. The statement coming from the previous generation, conveys that the race and LGBTQ movement is progressive, and that it’s moving in the right direction. “Bootycandy” is filled with searing comedy not fit for the lighthearted that celebrates individuality among minorities while drawing attention to contradictory issues.