Thursday, October 20, 2011

Milk Like Sugar ***

(Always click on the title to see the complete review!)
Kirsten Greenidge's ambitious new play is now at Playwrights Horizons in a coproduction with Women's Project Theater and the La Jolla Playhouse. Among the many topics it takes on are teenage pregnancy, rampant consumerism, mother-daughter relations, friendship and loyalty, the fear of loneliness, and the degradation of feeling that arises from living in a circumscribed world. That's a big agenda for a 100-minute play, perhaps too big. However, the production is so heartfelt that it is impossible not to be drawn into the world of these four African-American 16-year-old girls (Angela Lewis as the main character Annie, Cherise Boothe as mean girl Talisha, Nikiya Mathis as follower Margie and Adrienne C. Moore as Keera, the religious, plump outcast), two young men (J. Mallory McCree as Malik, a high school senior determined to break out of the ghetto, and LeRoy McClain as Antwoine, a would-be tattoo artist), and, finally, Annie's bitter, unloving mother Myrna (the superb Tonya Pinkins). The desire to have a baby to offer the unconditional love missing from their lives leads Annie, Talisha and Margie to form a pact to get pregnant at the same time. Annie is fixed up with Malik, whom she sees as just a sperm donor, but he has other plans. It's unusual that the men are the more sensitive characters, while the women are often mean and uncaring. The play has several riveting scenes. That not all the loose ends get tied up is a minor flaw. The play tries to end on a slightly hopeful note, but I was left with a feeling of deep sorrow for those who are trapped by their circumstances. The cast is uniformly strong. The set by Mimi Lien includes a moveable wall that suggests how the world is closing in. The costumes by Toni-Leslie James vividly capture the characters even before they say a word. Rebecca Taichman's direction in smooth and assured.

The title refers to the powdered milk that is often a staple in low-income households. It may look like sugar, but it's not sweet.

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