Review: ‘BootyCandy’ at Iron Crow Theatre

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You need to take up some sports.

This weekend, Iron Crow Theatre (“Iron Crow”) opened the final show of its 2016-17 Season of Dark Play – the Baltimore premiere of Robert O’Hara’s Lambda Literary Award-winning semi-biographical comedy, BootyCandy. O’Hara’s sexy, subversive comedy, directed by Brandon Rashad-Butts, has been named the first-ever “official show” of Baltimore Pride.

Justin J. Bell as Sutter in BootyCandy. Photo by Robert Clatterbuck.

BootyCandy, first produced at Playwrights Horizons in New York in 2014, is a series of vignettes that take a darkly comedic look at some of the realities of growing up gay and black. The scenes take different forms – memories, sketch comedy, and meta-theater skipping from past to present and back – that initially appear to be unrelated. However, a throughline comes into focus as we watch a young, gay black man named Sutter grow from childhood to adulthood. The scenes show Sutter in a series of scenarios that take place everywhere from his childhood home and church to dive bars, motel rooms, and even a nursing home. Though often shocking and laugh-out-loud funny, BootyCandy grapples with some serious issues.

Intersectionality, a term coined by UCLA Critical Race Theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw, refers to “overlapping or intersecting social identities and related systems of oppression, domination, or discrimination.” Squarely at the corner gay and black, Sutter suffers not only his personal destructive battles against self-hatred, vindictive impulses, and despair, he also faces racism and homophobia in even his closest relationships.

Justin J. Bell and Aquirra Lundy. Photo by Robert Clatterbuck.

Justin J. Bell is excellent as Sutter, who he portrays convincingly as both a precocious, optimistic young boy and as a man weary of a world that fetishizes, exploits and marginalizes the Other. Bell impresses from his striking pose in the hilarious opening tableau through his final moonwalk at the end of the show.

Aquirra Lundy opens the show as Sutter’s mom, in a comical scene in which she responds to a series of questions considered taboo in many public productions (and, sadly, even in private for many families.)

Jey Holman also has a turn at playing Sutter’s mom, including a funny-but-profound scene where she and Sutter’s stepdad (Jared Swain) offer a litany of directives intended to un-gay teenage Sutter (“no more musicals… bounce a ball, jump a hurdle.”)

The women are particularly funny in the scenes with just the two of them, notably in a sketch that gave me a brief Bye Bye Birdie flashback and in another where they are the parties in a lesbian non-commitment ceremony that’s like Gwyneth’s conscious uncoupling, Survivor-edition.

Jey Holman. Photo by Robert Clatterbuck.

Jared Swain’s portrayal of Reverend Benson is inspired. Both in his initial appearance in the pulpit and his reprise later in the show, Swain’s Benson is both daring and delightful. Swain moves between characters ranging from Sutter’s granny to his traumatized best friend with significant skill. I look forward to seeing him in future productions.

Rounding out the cast is Jesse Marciniak. Though he has several well-performed comedic bits, it is Marciniak’s serious scenes that have stuck with me the most. His monologue in the scene called “Mug” is disturbing and powerful; his performance in a hotel scene with Sutter and Larry is haunting.

Bob Denton’s set design is appropriately simple, repurposing a number of boxes with themed side panels to form furniture ranging from beds to bar booths. Likewise, Ryan Johnson’s lighting design typically keeps the focus on the characters with stark white spotlights, yet livens up as necessary to reinforce the sense of place, such as the bar where Sutter has some ill-advised hookups. Sound Designer Sara Bahermez’s soundscape provides not only atmospheric sound and a wonderfully nostalgic 1980s soundtrack, it is also a part of the comedy as it punctuates Rev. Benson’s sermon with dramatic organ music.

Justin J. Bell, Jared Swain and Jesse Marciniak. Photo by Robert Clatterbuck.

“Baltimore’s only queer theatre” hits the mark with its final show of the Season of Dark Play. BootyCandy is well-performed by a talented cast of actors playing a wide variety of roles. Head to Baltimore Theatre Project while you have the chance to catch this racy, raucous offering from Iron Crow’s award-winning 2016-17 season. Sexy, seductive and queer, BootyCandy is show you’ll see nowhere but Iron Crow Theatre.

Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes, including one intermission.

BootyCandy plays through June 18, 2017 at Baltimore Theatre Project – 45 West Preston Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, purchase them at the box office or online.

Note: BootyCandy explores mature themes, contains adult language, sexual content and violence. BootyCandy may not be suitable for patrons under the age of 18.

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