Fowl Play

15. September, 2010 Theater 1 comment


Show #92: MilkMilkLemonade, Impact Theatre, September 10.

Michael Garrett McDonald and Cindy Im in MilkMilkLemonade. Photo by Cheshire Isaacs

By Sam Hurwitt

Impact Theatre’s 15th season is off to a promising start with the Bay Area premiere of MilkMilkLemonade (opening just a week after its West Coast premiere in L.A.). Joshua Conkel’s 2009 Off-Off-Broadway hit has all the trappings of a sweet coming-of-age story, except at 11 years old its main character is still a long way from being of age, and the sweetness is complicated by sometimes gruesome perversity.

Cindy Im sets the tone right away in Desdemona Chiang’s spirited staging as the indefatigably peppy Lady in a Leotard who introduces the story with a bright smile, wide gestures and excessive enthusiasm like a sugar-crazed nursery school teacher.

It’s the story of Emory, an upbeat and effeminate 5th grader who just wants to play with his Barbie-like doll, Starlene, and fantasize about finding fame and fortune on the TV talent show Reach for the Stars. Charlie Cromer deftly captures Emory’s childlike enthusiasm without ever seeming insipid, though the absurdity and dark turns of the script give a helping hand. His best friend is Linda, a depressed, oversized chicken whom he has to save from being tossed into the processing machine. Sarah Coykendall is downright adorable in the giant chicken suit, even if she’s stronger in the scenes where she talks through clucking than when she’s speaking English. When Im’s Lady in a Leotard is translating and mirroring Linda’s movements, it’s a hysterical and irresistible combination.

Emory lives on his grandmother’s chicken farm but dreams of living in nearby Malltown. Deanna L. Zibello’s set looks like a child’s storybook picture of a farm, with green rolling hills, a barn, a little white house, two boxes painted like hay bales, and a little orange sun. Colin Trevor’s sound design sets the scene with the calls of geese and other birds, even a turkey that made my wife crack up every time she heard it.

His grandmother Nanna, played somewhat flatly by Cecele Levinson, doesn’t put up with any of Emory’s dreams, lecturing about homosexuality as a sin and girly behavior as the next worst thing. (That’s a little odd given her own butch look, but the short hair at least is probably because she’s dying of cancer.) She’s fixing to destroy his doll and cut up Linda with the rest of the chickens, and perhaps worse still, prods Emory to spend more time with his friend Elliot.

Neighbor boy Elliot is a pyromaniac bully who’s always picking on Emory, both because he’s such an easy target and because he likes him. When he’s not throwing his weight around and coercing Emory to play with him, Elliot is anguished, convulsing in what seems like guilt until we find out that he has an evil twin living inside his body who causes him physical pain. These periodic freakouts are the least convincing part of Michael Garrett McDonald’s unnervingly volatile performance, which hits its high point when Elliot and Emory “play house” in an amusingly unexpected way.

Im’s performance really steals the show, or rather makes it, whether she’s translating Linda’s clucking dialogue, threatening Linda as a hilarious ghetto spider, or goading Elliot as the growling evil twin in his thigh that makes him do things.

It turns mighty gruesome and morbid before it’s done, but the show is full of hilarious delights, including Linda and Emory’s goofy dance to a schmaltzy version of “Anything Goes,” Emory’s ribbon dance to Nina Simone singing “Ain’t Got No/I Got Life” from Hair, and a very funny if grotesque running gag about a boneless, skinless chicken farm. Miyuki Bierlein’s costumes are delightful, particularly Linda’s chicken suit and a startling pair of getups for the boys.

Parts of it don’t really work, which have more to do with the script than Chiang’s sharp production. A bit in which Linda the chicken does a pathetic standup comedy act in the style (or lack thereof) of Andrew Dice Clay is mildly amusing but doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the rest of the play.

Performed without an intermission (or as they say in French, sans pants), it’s a very short play, not much over an hour. The night I went, the show started late to allow for parking problems outside due to a David Gray concert at the Greek Theatre (who knew he had such a following?), and it still let out by 9:30. And in the few days since we saw it, my wife and I have already referred back to some of its runing gags  several times, which is always a good sign. (Well, usually anyway: I guess we did that with Lestat as well, and Gort knows that wasn’t good.) All told, it’s a tasty, satisfying little nugget, and goes great with chicken.


MilkMilkLemonade. plays through October 2 at La Val’s Subterranean, 1834 Euclid Ave., Berkeley.

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