Jennifer Harder, Nikole Beckwith and Andy Phelan in APAC's MilkMilkLemonade. Photo by Rhys Harper.
BOTTOM LINE: As tender and playful an exploration of sexual awakening and growing up as ever there was. And talking chickens!
MilkMilkLemonade, written by Joshua Conkel and directed by Jose Zayas, is a superlative example of theatre that walks the fine line between overstated and understated all at once. We are greeted by a Lady in a Leotard (Nicole Beckwith), who tells us this is stage show and that she will be handling stage directions, props, and chicken translations. She is awkward, terrified, and hilarious. She narrates, and we meet our hero, Emory (Andy Phelan), a 5th grade boy whose life ambition is to be a star on Broadway. His closest friends are Linda (Jennifer Harder), a giant talking chicken, and Starlina, a plastic doll with a gold sheath dress and barbie hair. They live on a chicken farm with his grandmother (Nanna, played by Michael Cyril Creighton), who trolls the stage with her oxygen tank and ever-present pack of cigarettes, trying to teach Emory how to be less 'soft' and preparing for 'processing,' the day she throws all the chickens into the giant machine for meat packing. To complicate matters, Elliot (Jess Barbagallo) comes over, the local bully who makes a big show of beating Emory up at at school so the other kids won't know how much he enjoys playing 'house' with him.
What makes MilkMilkLemonade so special is the artifice. The comical and imaginative stagecraft, the flat presentational Fisher-Price-like set pieces, the over the top and tactile costuming -- everything is distorted and huge, and exactly what an 11 year old's perception of entertainment and storytelling would and should be. We're going to see a SHOW! It's gonna be AWESOME! This is the FUNNY PART! This is the SERIOUS PART! This is the SCARY PART! To tell the story so innocently reveals the play's true nature: a horrifying and beautifully mature adventure of sexual awakening and growing up.
The show design is marvelously playful and fun, I especially enjoy the scenic and lighting integration, but I am a theatre geek, so that kind of stuff makes me extremely happy. The costumes look as if they'd been pulled out of my mother's basement dress-up cabinet, which is to say the costumes are pitch-perfect for this show. I've seen several APAC shows, and it never ceases to amaze me how elastic and flexible their space is, or how wonderfully well they use it.
The directing and acting are across-the-board phenomenal. Jose Zayas knows where the quiet moments are in this play, and he gives them just enough room to be important, but not saccharine. The actors clearly bring it home, with a beautiful mix of whimsy and self-importance, equal parts nuance and broad strokes. The reverse gender casting is interesting and poignant, but I hesitate to make too much of it, as I hardly even noticed who was really a boy and who was really a girl. They were just Emory and Elliot and Nanna and Linda and the girl in the stage blacks. And that makes it the most successful gender bending I've ever seen onstage.
Clearly, it's well worth the price of admission.
(MilkMilkLemonade plays through Saturday, November 13, 2010 at Good Shepherd United Methodist Church, 30-44 Crescent St, Astoria, NY. Performances are Thursdays at 8PM, Fridays at 8PM, Saturdays at 2PM and 8PM. Tickets are $18, available online at apacny.org or by calling 866.811.4111. For more info visit apacny.org.)