Out playwright and director Robert O’Hara tackles the twin minorities of being black and gay in Stage West’s provocative ‘Bootycandy’
Playwright and director Robert O’Hara has been a rising name in theaters around the country for nearly a decade, but he hasn’t been introduced in North Texas — until now. And we’re about to get a double dose of him — first with the regional premiere of his breakout play Bootycandy, a series of satirical vignettes about being black and gay, premiered in Washington, D.C., in 2011 and moved to off-Broadway in 2014. It’s now playing at Fort Worth’s Stage West; next he’ll direct the world premiere of Kirsten Childs’ musical Bella at the Dallas Theater Center in September.
Mark Lowry, with our content partner TheaterJones, chatted with him about his career, the works, and the title Bootycandy, which is explained in the first scene of the play. (Read more of the interview at TheaterJones.com.)
Mark Lowry: Bootycandy is autobiographical? The character of Sutter is you, right? Robert O’Hara: It is based in autobiography, but not everything in it is exactly what happened with me. My doppelganger would be Sutter, who is seeing things from a world that exists to him.
Did your mother really use the euphemism “bootycandy” for “penis”? Yes. Although after she hear about the play, she said that what she said was “bobocandy.” I had to pull it out of her memory.
The play comes from your experience of being both black and gay. You’ve always been black; when did you figure out that you were gay? Both of them come from birth. I was born black and gay. I was not socialized to be gay. I always knew I was different; I was always interested in something that a lot of kids were not into. So I found myself in the theater, where a lot of gay kids seek refuge. I think my family accepted it when I came out in college. By then I was highly political, but I was always outspoken. I wrote a letter to my mother and my father, I wrote them separately because I didn’t grow up with them. My mother called and left a voice message and asked if I was going to be wearing a dress, but then that she always knew I was gay. She ended up crying and said she would always love me. Now I think she loves my partner more than me.
Bootycandy is a series of 11 scenes, mostly interconnected. Have your previous works played with structure and non-linearity in similar ways? Bootycandy is a series of short pieces on a theme. It came out of short plays I had written over a decade. Some of my plays are linear, and some are non-linear, but they all deal in the same way with history and family and sexuality and perspective.
You directed the first three productions — in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York. Did it change over that time? It changed only slightly. I was allowed to develop it in D.C. NYC was an amalgamation of the D.C. and Philly casts. It was very much something that had institutional memory from previous productions. It was fun because we could not just change the play but go more in depth with what we had done before. I like directing the first workshop and the first reading. I’m a director and writer, so they help each other out.
I directed my play Insurrection: Holding History at the Public Theater when I was 25. I wrote and directed that as my master’s thesis at Columbia, it was an MFA in directing. From early in my career, I’ve directed them all in some way.
Bootycandy by Robert O’Hara continues at Stage West through Sept. 11. 821 W. Vickery Blvd., Fort Worth. StageWest.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 12, 2016.