In some ways Robert O’Hara’s Bootycandy is like a confounding road trip: you get where you’re going eventually, but not before encountering a bunch of bewildering detours.
The through line in this bold and bitterly satirical play is the path to maturity of a young gay black man named Sutton (Anton Peeples), first seen as an inquisitive child growing up in a harsh and unloving home, then a couple of decades later as an angry pleasure-seeking grown-up wreaking his pent-up rage on others.
We meet Sutton as a young innocent, reprimanded by his preening self-smitten mother (Travina Springer) for using the word “dick” for his penis instead of the far more questionable euphemism that she has opted for: bootycandy. It’s but one sign of the viciously belittling way that she talks to her son.
Scene two veers off from the family dynamic and takes us to church, where an African-American minister (understudy Parnell Damone Marcano) is admonishing the congregation for gossiping, specifically spreading a rumor that some young male parishioners are fooling around with each other. The minister’s sermon builds to a fiery crescendo until he explodes with a sizzling revelation (more for his flock than for us) of his own.
Scene three is a telephone conversation among four catty, mean-minded women (Springer and Julanne Chidi Hill, each assuming two roles). One of them is pregnant and set on naming the baby Genitalia, to the censorious chagrin of the others (none of whom is anybody’s friend).
In scene four we’re back with Sutton, now grown and jaded. He’s in a bar with his straight brother-in-law Roy (Cooper Daniels) and engaged in a hot and heavy come-on. Roy is coy, but the outcome of their pas de deux is never in doubt.
And so it goes: Excerpts from the life of the main character — as an adult clearly damaged goods — are interspersed with non-sequitur scenes that brazenly burlesque the family, the church, the bar scene, homophobia and, for good measure, the world of publishing. Women (all of the female characters are black) receive especially disdainful treatment. There are no princes or heroes in this play, but the men have moments when you feel for them at least. The women — except perhaps Sutton’s grandma (a skillful turn by Marcano), who's only mildly manipulative — have none.
The play is directed with characteristic skill and panache by Michael Matthews, and the supporting ensemble does solid work in multiple roles, although Hill tends to overplay her smug and smirking characters. Peeples holds it together by making us understand and care about Sutton, even when showing his nastier side. Daniels is also a standout.
Bootycandy is often very funny, but sometimes its satire comes from such an angry and personal place that it becomes outrageous and sad. But then that's probably the playwright’s point after all.
GO! Celebration Theatre at the Lex, 6760 Lexington Ave., Hollywood; through Dec. 20. celebrationtheatre.com.