|This isn't a picture, actually, of MilkMilkLemonade - but it is of Heart and Dagger, and it's very them!|
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.