I have attended plays at the Mint Museum on Randolph Road for 37 years, dating back to the days of Golden Circle Theatre. And I am pretty sure its walls have never resounded to so many blithe utterances of -----, ----, ------, ----- and especially ------------. Nor have they witnessed many instances of full-frontal ----.
I would also guess few audiences there have guffawed as lustily (and maybe as guiltily) as they did Tuesday at the opening of Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte’s “Bootycandy.” By “audience” I mean a remarkably diverse group of ages, races, genders and gender preferences. Playwright Robert O’Hara wants to outrage, challenge and entertain all comers, and he struck a chord with most.
Director Martin Damien Wilkins, faced with a room that’s both intimate and nearly in the round, made a virtue of necessity: Actors come on and off in full view, move furniture, make no pretense of dramatic continuity. That suits the mood of the play, whose characters sometimes speak to us directly and even interrupt scenes. Screens behind and above the main action offer commentary or visual backdrop.
This crazy quilt of a show contains broad comedy, absurd humor, a couple of touching characterizations (especially a befuddled and once-fierce grandmother, played straight) and a lot of exaggeration in which truth may rest. Characters recur at times, especially a young gay man named Sutter (Kevin Aoussou), who can be naively appealing or cruel. But just as we’re thinking he may be a stand-in for O’Hara, along comes a vignette in which playwrights at a conference remind us not to make assumptions about themselves or their work.
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Some scenes become tours de force: Jeremy DeCarlos as a preacher whose congregation has not come to grips with his flamboyance, or Ericka Ross as a motor-mouthed mother convinced that singing and dancing in “The Wiz” is the last thing her effete son needs to do. (We laugh at both situations, a little uncomfortably in the latter.)
The longest bit veers all over the road before coming to rest in a gully. Sutter and a gay companion have a bizarre encounter with a mentally unstable man (Chaz Pofahl); it’s incredible, freakish, potentially sad yet dramatically unresolved. In the following section, the actors reappear as “themselves,” dissecting what they have just performed – until a stage manager interrupts them to cancel that scene and jump to the next one! Somewhere the ghosts of Brecht and Pirandello are snorting. (Or just scratching their skulls.)
Often the best moments occur away from the central action. As Ross’ mother chews out her musical-loving son, his little sister (Lydia Williamson) looks on with huge gleeful eyes. Crazy as the scene may be, her reaction reminds us of the suppressed joy we’ve all experienced when a sibling was about to catch hell for an event that had nothing to do with us.
Real, yet unreal or maybe even surreal – that’s “Bootycandy” from start to finish. Real naughty, too, in a winking, “Oh did I just say that?” way that holds it together. Maybe sitting at the center of the genteel Mint enhances this experience like no place else would.
When: Through March 19 at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Also 7:30 p.m. March 2, 8, 14 and 16.
Where: Mint Museum, 2730 Randolph Rd.
Running time: 120 minutes with an intermission.
Details: 704-372-1000; http://www.atcharlotte.org/bootycandy/.