By Byrne Harrison
Photos by Rhys Harper
Walking into the theatre at the Good Shepherd United Methodist Church, it would be easy to believe that MilkMilkLemonade is a children's show; one of the old school types with vibrant primary-colored sets, built by young students under the watchful eye of a couple of young theatre teachers. In fact, the opening scenes of the play featuring Nikole Beckwith's amusing Lady in a Leotard certainly reinforce that feeling. The Lady, who serves as the rather awkward narrator of the play, begins the show with an uncomfortable chorus of Head Shoulders Knees and Toes. It is a very Vacation Bible School moment.
Playwright Joshua Conkel takes this format and turns it upside down by presenting the story of an effeminate young boy, Emory (Andy Phelan), his no-nonsense Nanna (Michael Cyril Creighton), the bully next door, Elliot (Jess Barbagallo), who is both repulsed by and attracted to Emory, and Linda (Jennifer Harder), a huge talking chicken with dreams of stardom and a knack for avoiding the processing machine. Facing head on the sort of topics that children's theatre would normally avoid, or worse, preach about - brutal death, sexual experimentation, bullying, homosexuality, and the comic stylings of Andrew Dice Clay - MilkMilkLemonade creates a world that lets adults remember the pain of childhood is a way that is so clearly artificial that it never allows pathos to slip in. The audience is removed enough to enjoy the humor, and it is a wildly amusing play, without feeling too badly for Emory, who is a remarkably well-adjusted and resilient boy.
The acting is outstanding across the board. In fact, this is one of the tightest ensembles I have seen in a while. It's helped no doubt by the fact that this is the same cast from the original production. They never strike a false note, and have a good sense of comic timing, letting the audience enjoy the laugh lines without moving on to quickly or waiting too long. Phelan and Barbagallo have excellent chemistry, in particular Barbagallo is outstanding dealing with Elliot's struggle between attraction and hatred. Harder and Beckwith shine in their roles. Their scenes in which the Lady in a Leotard translates Linda the chicken's speech are brilliant. Creighton is wonderful as the tough, doll-burning, chicken-killing matriarch.
Director Jose Zayas does an excellent job with this production, keeping his touch light and letting the script and actors shine. Other technical aspects are strong, especially Nicole Beerman's choreography and Sydney Maresca's costuming.
It's rare to see a production brought back to the stage as quickly as this one was (the original production was only last fall), but MilkMilkLemonade certainly earned another run. If you missed these two productions, keep your eyes open. I have no doubt we'll see more of this play, and certainly more of Joshua Conkel.
By Joshua Conkel
Director: Jose Zayas
Choreographer: Nicole Beerman
Set Design: Jason Simms
Costume Design: Sydney Maresca
Lighting Design: Bruce Steinberg
Sound Design: David Margolin Lawson
Press Representative: Katie Rosin/Kampfire Films PR
Associate Set Design: Caite Hevner
Production Manager: Annie Jacobs
Technical Director: Andrew T. Chandler
Production Stage Manager: Alex Mark
1st Assistant Stage Manager: Katy Moore
2nd Assistant Stage Manager: George Spencer
Master Electrician: Michael "PJ" Collins & Keith Schneider
Graphic Designer/Production Photographer: Kate Northern
Box Office Manager: Dave Charest
Lead Carpenters: Ashanti Coombs-Ziths & Matt Groeneveld
Build Crew: Mabel Bermejo, Patrick Cecala, Tom Cogan, Michael "PJ" Collins, Jonathan Gregg, Stephanie Halbedel, Sean Romano, Ashlee Springer
Featuring: Andy Phelan (Emory), Jess Barbagallo (Elliot), Michael Cyril Creighton (Nanna), Jennifer Harder (Linda), Nikole Beckwith (Lady in a Leotard)
Good Shepherd United Methodist Church
30-44 Crescent St, Astoria, NY
Closes Saturday, November 13
Visit APAC's website for details.