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January 12, 2012

Single Carrot Theater stirs up 'MilkMilkLemonade'

It’s not easy being a kid, especially a gay kid stuck on a chicken farm, yearning for the big shopping malls just a few miles away. It’s not easy being a chicken, either, especially when processing day is never far off.

Out of those truths comes “MilkMilkLemonade,” a dark, uneven comedy about sexual and philosophical awakening.

This recent work by Joshua Conkel is being served up in energetic, if not entirely satisfying, fashion by Single Carrot Theatre.

In a fairly compact span of 75 minutes, Conkel sprinkles all sorts of issues, along with the chicken feed, on a slender tale surrounding 11-year-old Emory.

The boy is perfectly comfortable with his doll, a budding libido, and a passion for show biz. He takes particular pleasure in his best friend, Linda, who happens to be a giant, talking chicken.

Then there’s Nana, Emory’s chicken-raising grandmother. She appears to be hanging onto life just long enough to make sure that, somehow, Emory can go sexually straight before he gets any older.

Praying away the gay isn’t going to get her far, so Nana enlists an ally in this quest, a neighborhood kid, Elliot, to bully some sense into Emory.

But Elliot slides between butch nastiness and an urge to play house with Emory — not in a naïve way. And Elliot’s got some other problems, namely an evil twin, who, parasitically, lives in the boy’s thigh.

Helping guide the audience through all of this is a narrator who also gets to portray the parasite and one big, hungry spider.

Emory is too young, too innocent (well, sort of), to fear anything about life beyond the farm. He just knows he wants to ...

enjoy his awesomeness, to be a dancing star, have fun. The notion that he should abandon childhood delights, let alone get his man pants on, is incomprehensible to him.

And as much as Nana tries to preach a pre-ordained, everything-has-a-purpose ideology, the more things are bound to change and hurt.

There is plenty of potential here for an absurdist romp, and, especially in the first half or so of the play, Conkel delivers.

Just the sight of a kinetic dance routine to the distinctive sound of the 1960s group Harpers Bizarre doing the Cole Porter classic “Anything Goes” is enough to ensure laughs. And, for some folks, possibly bittersweet memories — that recording was used in the opening credits of the movie version of “The Boys in the Band.”

Not that Emory is destined for something quite so bleak. But he’s clearly going to be in for some tough lessons if he ever survives that formidable grandmother and her skewered view of things (Nana’s description of how boneless, skinless chickens are raised is one of the play’s more memorable flights of fancy.)

“MilkMilkLemonade” — the title comes from a naughty children’s rhyme and also happens to be the name of an equally naughty, and annoying, Katy Perry song — never quite develops enough steam to deliver a theatrical punch. It meanders and takes detours that lead to dead ends.

The Single Carrot production doesn’t entirely make up for the structural weaknesses, though the cast, nimbly directed by Nathan A. Cooper, certainly jumps into the proceedings in vibrant fashion.

Aldo Pantoja makes a believable, even endearing Emory, hitting peaks in the wacky dance numbers (Sara Anne Austin provided the show’s choreography).

Jessica Garrett looks as silly as you would expect in a giant chicken costume, and delivers Linda’s clucks — translated by the narrator — with aplomb. But even Garrett can’t do much with an odd sequence that suddenly has Linda doing stale stand-up comedy.

Giti Jabaily gets fully into the groove as the obnoxious Elliot (the play allows for gender-bending casting), and even lets a glimmer of potential goodness in the character seep through nicely. Elliott Rauh’s Nana doesn’t become a colorful enough figure, despite the oxygen tank and wonderfully ratty slippers.

As the narrator/parasite/spider, Genevieve de Mahy is a continually engaging swizzle stick in this curiously mixed drink of a play.

The production runs through Feb. 5.

Posted by Tim Smith at 5:41 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens, Single Carrot Theatre

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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