Michael Van Duzer Reviews - Theater

Celebration Theatre christens its new performance venue with a high-powered production of Robert O’Hara’s Bootycandy. Less a conventional play than a series of riotous and ribald sketches centered on growing up gay and black, O’Hara laces his provocative comedy with a generous dose of undiluted acid.

The sketch convention allows the playwright the freedom to jump from one outrageous situation to the next, often leaving the audience breathless with laughter. But O’Hara, the author of Antebellum and the brilliant Insurrection: Holding History, has more on his mind than amusing us. He allows his hilariously colloquial dialog to disarm the audience so completely that we barely notice the growing darkness beneath the surface.

Our intermittent guide, and probable author stand-in, is Sutter (Anton Peeples). And his coming-of-age through Michael Jackson mania, a teenage taste for Jackie Collins novels, and a propensity for chasing the unavailable man gives the show its thru-line.

Michael Matthews directs with a forceful dynamism that never falters. The opening scenes are broad and freewheeling, but never uncontrolled. He brings a taut focus to the second act, which allows the potency of the final scenes to fully register—a feat that lesser directors might not manage. He is aided by an impressive creative team: Stephen Joshua Thompson’s simple and effective sets, Matthew Brian Denman’s robust lighting, Rebecca Kessin’s splashy sound, and Allison Dillard’s cheeky costumes.

The cast is a formidable comic powerhouse, creating a rich variety of appropriately flamboyant characters. Michael A. Shepperd nearly stops the show with his resplendent minister with a sartorial secret and memorably returns as an unwilling witness to Sutter’s actions. As Sutter, Peeples moves from an adorably precocious child to a confident young man harboring a deep pain. Travina Springer and Julanne Chidi Hill are at their best when playing off each other—as four different women gossiping about a neighbor’s unfortunate child-naming skills or as a truculent lesbian couple who treat their friends and family to a non-commitment ceremony. Cooper Daniels convincingly plays a number of white men with ties to Sutter, but it is his brave and harrowing portrayal of a disturbed man who is unlucky enough to seek comfort from Sutter that flips the show’s dynamic.

Celebration has the Lex for at least two years, and this inaugural production bodes well for their future in the space.

Lex Theatre    October 29 – December 20, 2015