Friday, June 4, 2010

Empire Stage: MilkMilkLemonade (2 reviews)

Empire Stage opened its production of Joshua Conkel's Milk Milk Lemonade on May 29, 2010.
In this hilarious satiric comedy, adults playfully and poignantly occupy a child’s world. Set on a chicken farm in America’s heartland, the play examines with measured shrewdness and tenderness, the growing pains of adolescence compounded by societal and familial prejudices against difference.
Nicole Stoddard directed a cast that included Damian Robinson, Craig Butler, Allie Rivenbark, Scott Douglas Wilson, and Christina Groom.

Warren Day reviewed for the Florida Agenda:
When you consider all the live theater that’s available from Miami to Palm Beach, you realize how lucky we are that there are so many opportunities to see stage productions that are not the tried, true and very tired that make up the community offerings in most of America, and which never threaten anyone’s understanding of theater or of life.

So you want to applaud Thinking Cap Productions and Empire Stage when they attempt a different and difficult play never performed in Florida before, yet you still have to review the results and not the intentions.
The key to understanding the playwright Joshua Conkel is to realize you’re seeing these characters and how they interact with each other through the imaginative eyes of that “sensitive child,” a perspective the director Nicole Stodard could have made more creative use of in the set and costumes.
MilkMilkLemonade belongs to the Theater of the Absurd...Because such shows deal with the discrepancies between what we’ve been told life is and what it actually is, most absurdist plays are comedies, but in order for it to work, that zaniness requires razor-sharp timing and the whimsy needs a feather-light touch. They get neither in this heavy-handed production.
Rod Stafford Hagwood wrote it up for The Sun Sentinel:
...this is "PeeWee's Playhouse," with the censor turned — most decidedly — off.

A lot of it works and is very funny. For example, when Emory channels Blanche Dubois during the "playhouse" scene, he stares mistily at an imaginary bug zapper. "Funny how I always root for the moths. Don't go into that light I think. And just for a second I think they won't. Then zap."

But a lot of Milk Milk Lemonade falls flat too. Part of the problem is that Joshua Conkel's script is really about how childhood is dark, scary and full of pitfalls. A juxtaposition of bigger, brighter, happier primary colors in the production would have punched the point home. As directed by Thinking Cap Productions' Nicole Stodard, Robinson and Butler are a tad static and too inert for 10- or 11-year-olds, so the contrast between childhood and adulthood is not as sharp as it could be, blunting the satire and dulling the farce.
Milk Milk Lemonade plays at Empire Stage through June 27, 2010.

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