Asked what the name of her upcoming play “Bootycandy” means, Katrinah Carol Lewis is matter of fact: “It’s candy to the booty.” Perhaps you just have to see the show to find out.
Next week, TheatreLab’s production of “Bootycandy” hits the stage at the Basement. Written by Robert O’Hara, the semi-autobiographical comedy bitingly explores the positive and poisonous elements of a gay Black man’s upbringing.
“It’s a fun, boisterous, bold, coming-of-age story,” says Lewis, who co-directs the show with Deejay Gray, Conciliation Lab’s co-artistic director. “It’s two hours of a wild, satisfying ride through the Black experience.”
From childhood through becoming a professional playwright, “Bootycandy” focuses on Sutter, a boy who loves Michael Jackson and Jackie Collins novels. Sketches in the show range from uproarious satire to emotional drama. Lewis says the show gives a glimpse of O’Hara’s “life from conversations with his mother, family around the table, and then there are other sketches that are just kind of exploring different aspects of culture and identity. … It’s very human. It’s funny and silly and outrageous, and also poignant and real.”
Todd Patterson, who plays Sutter, says that the show explores the formative relationships of a playwright’s life.
“It’s irreverent. It’s funny as all get out. It’s got its touching moments. It’s an interesting night at the theater, but definitely an enjoyable one,” says Patterson, who appears alongside Dylan Jones, Zakiyyah Jackson, Dixon Cashwell and Durron Marquis Tyre onstage. “[O’Hara] takes you all the way to the edge and pushes you off.”
Sketches in the show include a lesbian couple’s “noncommitment” ceremony, a woman who has named her daughter Genitalia and a preacher who rips off his clothes in the middle of a sermon to reveal something surprising. Late in the show, a panel of Black playwrights field questions at a public discussion overseen by a clueless white moderator. When the moderator tells Terry O’Malley, a fictional playwright in the scene, that their last name is odd for a Black person and asks how they got it, the playwright bluntly responds “Slavery.”
The show’s risqué humor led the New York Times to favorably liken it to “In Living Color.” Lewis agrees with the comparison but says audiences will also catch dashes of “The Cosby Show” and “Family Matters,” as well as George C. Wolfe’s satirical play “The Colored Museum.”
Patterson says the show offers commentary on topics of religion, spirituality, queerness, family and sex in a way that’s both comical and profound. We also see Sutter undergo heartbreak and “how that informs his worldview and the way he approaches other men in his life.”
Of portraying Sutter, Patterson says “he’s funny, he’s witty, he’s a little crazy, and he’s been fun to play.” Overall, Patterson says the show is a hilarious and moving exploration of the life of a gay Black man.
“Feel free to laugh, smile and go on this journey with a Black gay trailblazer and have a good time,” Patterson says. “The stuff that we tackle is heavy, but [O’Hara] gives us permission to laugh, and laugh quite a bit.”
TheatreLab’s “Bootycandy” plays June 9-18 at The Basement, 300 E. Broad St. For more information, call (804) 349-7616 or visit facebook.com/theconcilationlab.