The current play at B Street Theatre is “We’re Gonna Be Okay,” set during the Cuban Missile Crisis of the 1960s. Unlike “Little Shop” with its fanciful threat of doom, “Okay” features a very tangible threat of annihilation — war with Russia over its placement of missiles in Cuba, just 90 miles from the U.S.
The play follows two middle class American families (portrayed by Dana Brooke, Jason Kuykendall, Elisabeth Nunziato and Dave Pierini, as the parents, plus Stephanie Altholz and Doug Harris as their teenage offspring) as they confront the possibility of a nuclear war. Those of us alive during that time remember the fear and frustration of the times — and the belief that perhaps an underground bomb shelter would offer the chance for survival.
That’s the plot of “Okay.” Act One takes place above ground as the couples assess the situation and decide — despite reservations — to build a shelter. Act Two takes place entirely underground, in their bunker. It is there that people’s true natures are revealed, real fears are realized and — well, they’re not guaranteed to be okay at all.
“We’re Gonna Be Okay” is one of two plays this season that was discovered at the renowned Humana Festival in Louisville (the other was “Airness”). It was written by Basil Kreimendahl, a gender-neutral playwright (the preferred pronoun is “they”) whose pieces regularly focus on language, class, and gender identity. “Okay” is a very serious consideration of anxiety in America and is about finding the courage to face who we are — and who we want to be.
The cast is excellent, with Pierini and Nunziato delivering especially good work. Altholz and Harris, too, are outstanding as teenagers grappling with inner tensions every bit as frightening as the possible end of civilization.
“We’re Gonna Be Okay” plays at 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays, 2 and 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 5 and 9 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, through Sept. 9. The play is on the Mainstage at The Sofia (Sofia Tsakopoulos Center for the Arts), 2700 Capitol Ave. Tickets are $28-$47. For tickets or for more information, call (916) 443-5300 or go to BStreetTheatre.org.
Meanwhile, another play about identity and anxiety and finding the courage to be who we are is onstage at Big Idea Theatre. “Bootycandy” is its name.
It is rude, crude and in-your-face, particularly as it pertains to sexual identity. It also is profound as it is provocative.
In this semi-autobiographical drama, playwright Robert O’Hara sets his surrogate, Sutter, on a perilous journey growing up black and gay in contemporary America. In a series of vignettes, O’Hara criticizes — and takes swipes at — various aspects of our culture, particularly African American culture. He depicts the sway of the evangelical church on the black family, the societal condemnation of homosexuality and the toll on the psyche of a young man trying to reconcile who he knows himself to be with who society will allow him to be.
Vernon Lewis vividly portrays the inner turmoil of Sutter, the young man who is at war with himself. Unable to accept his homosexuality, he embarks on “I’m not gay” experiences with men until tragedy is inevitable.
Anthony D’Juan directs an exceedingly talented cast that also includes Urias Davis, Cole Winslow, BJ Nash and Brooklyn Solomon.
Some of O’Hara’s targets are easy stereotypes (for example, the hypocritical evangelical minister, the proclivity of some African Americans for giving unusual names to their offspring). That’s not to say they aren’t funny, and the moments of lightness are welcome respites from the dark through-line of Sutter’s existence.
“Bootycandy” features adult themes and includes nudity. It’s not for — say, the typical B Street audience — but it is rewarding to those with the desire for challenging, adult entertainment.
“Bootycandy” is performed at 8 p.m. Thursday to Saturday (and 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 2, only) at Big Idea Theatre, 1616 Del Paso Blvd., through Sept. 8 Tickets are $18-$22 ($12 on “thrifty Thursday”). For tickets or for more information, call (916) 960-3036 or go to BigIdeaTheatre.org.