review: milk like sugar

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Milk Like Sugar

by Kirsten Greenidge
Directed by Rebecca Taichman
Featuring Tonya Pinkins
Playwrights Horizons, Women’s Project Theater, La Jolla Playhouse
Peter Jay Sharp Theater @ Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd Street
November 1, 2011 — November 27, 2011
production web site

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
November 22, 2011

  • “Nothing sadder than a Twinkie without frosting and nothing sadder than an ugly baby.”
  • “You don’t choose a tattoo.  A tattoo chooses you.”
(L-R) Tonya Pinkins and Angela Lewis. Photo by Ari Mintz.

Parsimonious, powerful, pointed, punctuated story telling.  Sharply etched scenes flow together in theatrical space, choreographed and fully directed character-filled scene transitions in the spare performance space of the Peter Norton Theatre on the top of Playwrights Horizons.  In Milk Like Sugar, we encounter mothers, daughters, mothers-to-be, men making a living however they can, and everyone imagining a future.  In the seven characters etched by playwright Kirsten Greenidge and her stalwart band of actors we have shards of lives and entire lifetimes.  In monologues of pain and connection, in dreams articulated and half-understood hopes and fears, we get to know individuals and a world, and come away a bit wiser.

High school pals Annie (Angela Lewis), Talisha (Cherise Boothe) and Margie (Nikiya Mathis) support and scheme — obtaining for Annie a tattoo (via tattoo artist Antwoine, Leroy McClain) for her 16th birthday, arranging through bullying for a new girl Keera (Adrienne C. Moore) to write papers for one of the group, trying through their sketchy knowledge of biology to get pregnant at the same time to have something of their own and something to hold them all together.  This scheme evolves differently for each of the girls and the boys in their lives.  Annie’s boy pal Malik (J. Malory-McCree) keeps his eyes on the skies and his own future and goes off to college by the end of the play, providing for Annie a new possible future about which to dream.  And most of all, or most devastatingly powerful for this audience member in the first row, close enough to feel her heat and anger and love and frustration in character: Tonya Pinkins as Myrna, Annie’s mother, who herself got pregnant while still in school and continues to feel frustrated by unfulfilled dreams.

Humor, taut storytelling, spare and effective direction by Rebecca Taichman and set design by Mimi Lien.  Power in a tiny gift box.

© Martha Wade Steketee (November 26, 2011)

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