Monday, September 21, 2015

"Bootycandy" is equal parts deep profane pain and great joy! Best Intiman show this season!

Tyler Trerise in Bootycandy (Jeff Carpenter)
Intiman Festival
(at Cornish black box)
Through October 3

The challenging, engaging, challenging, funny (did I say challenging?) play finishing up the Intiman “season” is Bootycandy by Robert O’Hara. It is by far the best production in their list. The play is being presented through their newly-formed Director’s Lab with MFA-candidate Malika Oyetimein helming the project.

So, this review will skew toward discussing her success in directing this semi-autobiographical play. Many people may not understand a director’s job in the collaborative process of staging a play. I hope to clarify that a bit, too. To start that explanation, the director is what I think of as a “crystallizer” – someone who has a vision of what the play should look like, feel like, and help the audience experience. The director uses that vision to work with the designers of the set, costumes, lights and sound (and props) to determine the whole look and feel of a particular staging.

Oyetimein worked with Julia Welch on an almost bare set, with just areas of cardboard boxes, a bed, a large desk, and other spare utilitarian set “moments.” The play tells a story of a young Gay and black man, Sutter, and his interactions with low-income residents, mostly, of his family and town. So, the spare feeling played into setting a tone of bare bones survival. Similarly, the costumes by Kelly McDonald are street clothes, unless a more dressy or sparkly garment is called for.

The main challenge of the play is that it is told in disconnected scenes. They all combine (finally) into a more cohesive whole, but O’Hara deliberately disconnects them from any linearity so there are jumps in time and character development that can be baffling. At one later point in the script, O’Hara has some playwrights (in a forum) announce that “writing is hard, so watching should be just as hard!” And that is quite the point for him.

Whether it is in the script or not (unknown to me), Oyetimein even changes the actor who plays the mother – twice. That could be a savvy, interesting directing choice or required by the playwright. That is another way the play deconstructs a normal stage experience. The playwright is making the audience work, rather than sit back and be entertained.

The director is also in charge of helping the actors decipher the script and fulfill the vision she has decided upon. Oyetimein worked with five strong actors: Angel Brice, Rebecca M. Davis, Isaiah Johnson, Chris Ensweiler and the main character, Sutter, Tyler Trerise.

Ensweiler has played many bombastic characters. Here he sometimes does what we expect more usually, as well as some intense and quiet work that shows his range and talent. Trerise, as well, must start as a very young boy, become a confused teenager, and then a man, more confident and also more in touch with his rage and his choices. Oyetimein would be key to asking them to deliver more emotion, display more vulnerability, make bold and difficult choices.

A number of the scenes are standouts from both the writing and the playing. There is a scene with Brice and Davis talking on the phone and they change phones multiple times, and characters, and walk about stretching phone cords, and it’s enormously fun. Another scene has a preacher (Johnson) speechifying about “the I-heards and the they-heards” and how they spread gossip and distress in the congregation. The end of that scene gets and deserves an ovation of its own.

This play deserves patience and for you to bring yourself to work at understanding it. There are laughs, there is despair, there are hints to puzzle out. It’s very adult (full nudity, swearing, Gay sexual contact). It is not for a faint-hearted audience. The audience I saw it with had a great time and was more than 50 percent people of color. And that was fantastic.

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