Saturday, July 9, 2011

Heart and Dagger takes a stab at gay innocence

This isn't a picture, actually, of MilkMilkLemonade - but it is of Heart and Dagger, and it's very them!
When my old buddy Joey Pelletier asked me to see his current show, MilkMilkLemonade (it closes tonight at the Factory Theatre, so hurry), my first reaction was "But isn't that by Josh Conkel?  And am I not filled with hatred for Josh Conkel - as I am for his entire generation???"

Or so Miss Conkel herself once told me in an email or comment (I forget which).  Indeed, Joey mentioned that the oh-so-sensitive playwright had emailed him to say something like, "Listen, I'm really sweet and innocent and all, but I have to mention that there is this scary old queen in Boston named Thomas Garvey who thinks he's a critic - which is totally pathetic, frankly, everybody says so! - and if I were you I would think twice about inviting him to the show.  I mean that in a nice way, of course."

Yeah, we both had a good laugh about that.  I mean, it may have been good advice, but hey - Joey needed some publicity, know what I'm saying?  Desperate times, desperate measures, etc., which means even bitter old queens like me get in free!  Joey's outfit, Heart and Dagger Productions, is plenty funny and smart, but I'm afraid they work in a sharp, slutty mode - think of them as a mixed-gender Gold Dust Orphans - that's a little too close to Ryan Landry's niche.  And Ryan Landry is already in that niche, isn't he.  So no reviews for Heart and Dagger!

Oh, well - such are the challenges facing a theatrical start-up these days.  Theatre scene - growing; critical scene - shrinking.  It's an old story, and a really boring one, so back to MilkMilkLemonade . . .

Now I am going to try to be as nice as possible about this totally awesome play by Mr. Joshua Conkel (which draws its name from a certain familiar schoolyard rhyme).  I will also attempt to ignore my bitter loathing of his entire generation.  Scout's honor.  So here goes nothing.

MilkMilkLemonade is not too long.  And it has some very funny lines.  And it made me want to run out and chow down on a factory-farmed steak as soon as possible.

Just kidding about that last one, kids!  I did realize, as I watched the sweet but kind of runny MilkMilkLemonade pour forth, that I was watching a show by and for The Young Peoples, and so I had to adjust my dusty old dried-up critical standards.  It's really a long-form skit rather than an actual play, for instance, but actual plays are so over, know what I'm saying?  I mean everybody under thirty has ADD, you can't expect them to sit still for two whole hours and track a - what do you call it? I forget - you know, that thing that plays have - oh, right a theme, a theme, that's it!  (Somebody tweeted me that, which is just one reason why the Internet is so awesome.)

So MML's lack of development is actually a good thing for The Young Peoples.  As are its many digressions into pop songs and dance routines (which are pretty cleverly rendered here).  Indeed, MML sometimes plays like a scarily-accurate X-ray of a certain demographic (even down to the 80's reruns its targeted viewers probably remember).  But I forgot - these are all good things!!!

To be fair, there is a plot - kind of.  Little Emory is a gay eight-year old (that would be Joey) who lives on a chicken farm with his loving but grimly bloodthirsty Nanna (Mikey DiLoreto, who renders Nana's apparent trachial cancer with disgusting authority).  Emory is so sweet that not only is he a gay power bottom, he's also a vegan - and his idea of a good time is pretending to be a boneless chicken breast while people spray him with "moisture."  (Don't laugh, this would pass as unremarkable in certain circles.)  Two conflicts are troubling poor Emory's rich fantasy life, however.  His best friend, the enormous chicken Linda (who herself fantasizes that she's Andrew Dice Clay - helped by a truly hilarious coiff, Erin Rae Zalaski manages to pull this off), is scheduled to be "processed" by Nana sometime soon.  And local bully Elliott (a highly convincing Melanie Garber, even when she's not sporting a penis), keeps dropping by - either to punch someone, set something on fire, or play doctor with Emory.  Hmmm . . .

As a kind of map of tremulous gay-teen fantasy life, I suppose this serves well enough - the trouble is it plays out with utter predictability.  Still, every now and then Conkel's instincts nudge him toward more intriguing territory than Tennessee Williams parodies and Gong Show auditions.  When Linda encounters a nasty little spider with "attitude" (a hilarious Elise Weiner Wulff), for instance, we wonder whether Mr. Conkel might suddenly be up for delivering, via her hearty carnivorousness, a few ripostes to the weepy, coddled mindset of his principals.  But no such luck.  Oops, sorry - I mean that's a good thing!

Anyway, it's over pretty fast, and there are quite a few good lines (which I won't spoil by repeating).  There is also a funny modern-dance evocation of the chicken processor in which poor Linda is eventually chopped to bits. And if you haven't noticed, I was impressed by everybody in the cast, including Joey, who's maybe a bit too sexy and knowing to embody Emory's innocence, but who certainly knows his way around a Blanche DuBois routine.

I was also impressed with Barbara DiGirolamo's quick-witted direction and the general look and feel of the show - although I did wonder whether the design team hadn't missed something of the perversely innocent Mister-Roger's-Neighborhood feel that I imagine Conkel had in mind; Heart and Dagger's take on a barnyard was somehow tilted a bit toward the burlesque.  Likewise  Elise Weiner Wulff's turns as the show's narrator (the "Lady in a Leotard") should probably lean more toward Shari Lewis (and her translations of Linda's grackel need some sort of gentle twist). Come to think of it, even Emory's Barbie doll looked a little too white-trash trampy.  But then again, that was probably a good thing.


  1. "Why, again, do we think bloggers are less insightful than print critics?"

    Because when print critics like something they didn't expect to like, they generally admit it without smothering their prose in sarcasm and condescension.

    Conkel may not have been that thrilled about you seeing the show (and frankly, given your sniping and griping about NYC theater bloggers, he would be pretty justified), but in what universe does a professional critic spill the kind of bubble-headed, Perez Hilton-oid tripe that leads this piece?

    Oh. Right. Sorry. You're a blogger.

    Carry on.

  2. Now I don't want to sound condescending, so I'll play this one straight: fuck you, Abe (see another plus about being a blogger is that I can give people exactly the treatment they deserve). And I will carry on, thank you very much - because what "professional critic" can manage the kind of insight I regularly provide? Damn few - and certainly none in New York!

  3. I just want to add - in case there are any more clowns out there as dumb as Goldfarb - that you don't get to throw an insult into the comments here with an "oh-snap!" and then pat yourself on the back with no response from me. There's no editor here, and you have no particular right to appear on my blog. If you add a comment, you do so as a guest, and at your own risk - remember that. And remember I always have the last word.

  4. Tom:

    Speaking as a clown, I ask you not use the term to refer to people who don't know how to read a theatre review (I mean, we do know how, but sometimes, we deliberately misread it for entertainment purposes.) Point being that clowns, when being dense, are deliberately and artfully so.

    You don't see me using "critic" as a term of disparagement now, do you?

    Seriously, I already have enough to deal with when clowns are likened to Republicans-- it's all very upsetting.

  5. I have to ask with regards to the new sidebar: Since when are you from Finland, Tom?

  6. Quite right, Ian! I apologize for unintentionally demeaning clowns.

    As for the sidebar - well, I'm glad SOMEBODY got it. But, no (sigh), I'm not the famous Tom of Finland. Not even close. Plenty of people have called me a Nazi, though, so there is THAT similarity . . .

    Btw, I've been meaning to spar with you about your "Merchant of Venice" post but just haven't had time. Maybe later this week.

  7. Really? I was the first one to get the Tom of Finland joke? I've been holding back from comment thinking somebody would have beaten me to it!

    As to some sparing over at my blog: you're always welcome!

    Apology accepted on he clown issue! Now I just wish the DSCC would apologize to those of us of the grease paint and giant shoes.

  8. You are the first! Which is a little surprising - I mean, I was sure Art would pick up on it; he seems like a Tom of Finland type, don't you agree? ;-) But I guess he's too busy being a Hollywood mogul these days to waste his time on the little old Hub Review . . . (heavy sigh).

  9. Okay, after a couple of weeks and despite warnings from the cast, my agent, my boyfriend etc. I finally decided to take the bait and read this...

    And this is not so bad at all. I'm shocked, frankly. I knew that you wouldn't like it, but I'm genuinely surprised by how kind you are to it here. I mean, relatively speaking.

    Here's the thing: this is about the billionth production of this play in the two years it has existed. It has three more on the way this year and is consistently among Playscripts most produced works. It landed me an agent and a book deal an a whole litany of other stuff. It's totally okay that you didn't like it- lots of other people seem to.

    And that's really what I've always tried to impress upon you when I've commented here in the past- there should be room for all kinds of work in the American theater. Even plays that are all low brow like mine- plays that you might not like- have legitimacy and importance. Your taste isn't everybody's taste and it has nothing to do with age- MilkMilkLemonade has admirers your age and much, much older- many of whom you probably know and admire.

    I'm not so sensitive, Garvey. I'll be okay and so will MilkMilkLemonade. Next time you write about me though let me know and I'll send you a head shot. I think I'm kind of cute! Not Tom of Finland sexy, but, you know... I do my best.


  10. Dear Josh Conkel: I am glad you are not too upset. And I am glad your play has had billions of productions, and has landed you lucrative deals. But STOP READING NOW. Because its popularity does not make MilkMilkLemonade an interesting play, I'm afraid, just a successful one - in much the same way Defending the Caveman was successful (in fact, MilkMilkLemonade is quite a bit like a gay, vegan Defending the Caveman, but never mind).

    You write that apparently "all you've been trying to tell me" is that derivative plays designed to launch careers by appealing to a particular audience's assumptions and prejudices have "legitimacy and importance." But sorry, I don't believe that, and you could never convince me. So just - think not on't, okay? You're a funny guy, and maybe you have a good play in you, but you haven't written it yet.