In ‘Bootycandy,’ Growing Up Black and Gay Is Sticky and Sweet in Gut-Busting Satirical Comedy
Playwright Robert O’Hara knew exactly what he was doing when he named his hit 2011 play “Bootycandy.” The provocative title generates interest and all kinds of assumptions about the semi-autobiographical comedy deeply entrenched in the Black queer experience. On May 14, Atlanta audiences will be able to experience O’Hara’s play when it opens at Actor’s Express.
”Bootycandy,” tells the story of Sutter (Damian Lockhart), who is on an outrageous odyssey through his childhood home, his church, dive bars, motel rooms, and even nursing homes. O’Hara weaves together scenes, sermons, and sketches to create a kaleidoscope that interconnects to portray growing up Black and gay.
Charlotte-based director Martin Damien Wilkins is at the helm of the Atlanta production. Wilkins has a long history with Actor’s Express and “Bootycandy,” having directed the show for Actor’s Theater of Charlotte in 2017. Like O’Hara, Wilkins is intentional about amplifying the Black gay experience in "Bootycandy," particularly after a 2017 performance where he says an audience member rejected the existence of a Black gay experience during a post-show talkback.
“A woman, very pointedly said to me—‘There's not a Black gay experience. There's just a gay experience.’ And my response was, as a Black queer man, I love that this play is about the Black gay experience. I wasn't gonna let that hold space at all,” Wilkins says. “Because certainly, we love the idea of things being universal, but Robert [O’Hara] is writing about who we are as Black gay men in terms of how he sees our experiences.”
But outrageously, as O’Hara explained during a 2014 interview with Playwrights Horizon on the origin of his satirical comedy.
“They come from real encounters that I’ve had with people. But then, of course, it’s completely outrageous. No one wants to actually see my life onstage,” he said. “But if you sort of twist it and pull it and go to the extreme of the experience, that might be fun. That’s part of the fun of being in theater. You can actually create something that’s theatrical.”
You can also make space for Black queer actors to unpack their own traumatic experiences in the rehearsal room as Wilkins has done, through a script that elicits raucous laughter despite tackling painful situations.
“Through the audition process, it was really important to me that we have that [queer] representation on stage, especially in the main character Sutter,” Wilkins says, referring to the play’s central character played by openly queer actor Damian Lockhart.
A Buena Vista, GA native, Lockhart has called Atlanta home for over a decade, which is just a few years shy of when he was first introduced to O’Hara’s work and became laser-focused on landing the role of Sutter.
“I was preparing from the moment that I saw it was on the [Actor’s Express] season announcement,” Lockhart says. “I was going to make it my mission to audition and to go in extremely prepared. It’s a show that I really care about. It is one of the few times that I was able to truly see someone like me in a play and in-text without me having to cross into the realm of performing masculinity for people,” he said.
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