Monday, October 24, 2011

"Milk Like Sugar" at Playwrights Horizons, October 21, 2011

A few years ago, there were news reports of unhappy high school girls who formed pacts to all get pregnant and drop out of school.  Playwright Kirsten Greenidge has written this concept into the premise of Milk Like Sugar, in which Talisha (Cherise Boothe), Margie (Nikiya Mathis) and Annie (Angela Lewis) are planning their gift list for their shared baby shower including Coach diaper bags and better cellphones.  Margie is already pregnant. Talisha has plans in place.  Only Annie seems to be dragging her feet even though Talisha has picked out a partner for her as well, Malik (J. Mallory-McCree).

As the play opens, the girls have turned up at a tattoo parlor after hours for Annie to get free ink from an uncertified tattooist.  This only one in a continuing series of bad decisions.  Annie's mother Myrna (Tonya Pinkins), cleans offices to support her family.  She fancies herself a writer,  but doesn't seem to understand why she can't use the computers in the offices she cleans.

 Ms. Greenidge seems to surf the story on the backs of stereotypes, from the materialistic, frighteningly misinformed, teen girls (Margie says: "Annie, you should get a red tattoo, cuz Malik's phone is red!"), to the sensitive, poet-type Malik trying to escape his ill mother, to the jaded and bitter mother whose life potential ended with her own teenage pregnancy.  Even the tattooist is a misunderstood artist.  Ms. Greenidge also overworks a flame motif from Annie's tattoo to one of the many heavy-handed scene transitions with overstated symbolism. 

Better served might have been the ladybug nursery rhyme that felt much more organic to the proceedings.  It certainly would have made a better title than the line pulled from one of Annie's later monologues when she recounts the image of powdered milk in a cupboard as a hungry child.  About the only scene that really played truthfully was Margie's traumatic first visit to the doctor and the reality check that followed.

Director Rebecca Taichman, who directed Classic Stage's recent Orlando, keeps things moving once the scenes start, but pushes too hard with the choreographed transitions and seems no more at home in the 21st century than she did in the 16th.

Production values are well up to Playwrights' standards with sets by Mimi Lien and lighting by Justin Townsend.  Toni-Leslie James has some fun with the girls' costumes, particularly Margie's penchant for monochromatic outfits.

Milk Like Sugar runs through November 20, 2011.  Tickets are available here.

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