'Milk Milk Lemonade' Begins APACs 10th Season
It’s hard to find words to describe the Astoria Performing Arts Center’s production of “Milk Milk Lemonade”. Brilliant, hysterical, surreal and mind-blowing are a few words that do come to mind. To be more specific, it is a performance piece that defies all expectations and preconceived notions of what theater is or should be.
The narrator, the Lady in the Leotard, steps out at the beginning of the play to introduce the story and give the viewer fair warning of what’s in store by way of her shell-shocked demeanor. It’s as if she’s been living in the reality of the play for too long and has somehow been traumatized by it. She informs us that she’ll be translating for the talking chicken. Talking chicken? Yes. Our protagonist, Emory, an eleven-year old boy, played by grown-up actor Andy Phelan, lives on a farm with his infirm grandmother, and his refuge is Linda the chicken, his best friend in whom he confides his inner most secrets and desires. She is the one who understands him and supports his dreams of Broadway and reality-show fame. Not so the case with his oxygen machine-bound, chain smoking Nanna. She predicts that he’ll never get off the farm and she murders chickens (it is, after all, a chicken farm). She’s happy to discover that he’s a friend with the scrappy, tough kid down the street, Elliot, played by Jess Barbagallo. Elliot torments Emory while secretly in love with him. Together, they role-play in bizarre, Tennessee Williams-esque parodies of sad adults stuck in humdrum realities. They also share a kind of sexual relationship to what extent it isn’t quite clear even though they appear “nude” together at one point, little fake genitalia sewn on to their underwear. Elliot is ashamed of his sexual tendencies being equally a bully and a lover. Ultimately, he is also betrayer and redeemer.
The versatility of the five actors who make up the cast is remarkable. Phelan as Emory effortlessly transforms from sweet, joyful young boy to tragic housewife in his play-acting with Barbagallo who is so convincing as a male, my theater companions had to look twice at their programs to confirm if the casting was correct. Her character is alternately twitchy and tortured, tough and tender. Michael Cyril Creighton as Nanna is eerily precise as a bitter, dying woman. Jennifer Harder, who won the 2010 Innovative Theater Award for Best Supporting Actress in her role, as Linda when she portrayed it in the original production, is astonishingly bird-like in her body movements one minute and the next, is a bawdy, Brooklyn stand-up comedienne, the chicken’s alter ego. She’s funny and heartbreaking, riveting us every moment she’s on stage. Finally, our narrator, chicken translator, sound effects provider and portrayer of an evil ghetto spider, the Lady in a Leotard, Nikole Beckwith, exhibited the most wonderful physicality. She seems at first so stiff and awkward, then in her many incarnations, becomes flexible and freaky in a myriad of ways. Milk Milk Lemonade is completely unpredictable and utterly unlike anything you’ve ever experienced in the theater. Directed by José Zayas as well as to experience it on the colorful, child-like and fantastical set designed by Jason Simms. Tickets are available by calling 212-352-3101 or by visitng, www.apacny.org.
The show runs through November 13, Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m. and Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Please be advised that due to the mature content of the play, no-one under the age of sixteen will be admitted.