Joshua Conkel's Milk Milk Lemonade features an absurdist slice of America.
Energetically performed by Single Carrot Theatre, the black comedy features a perplexed middle-school student Emory (played by Aldo Pantoja), tormented by his Wagnerian grandmother Nanna (Elliott Rauh) and by the brutal kid-down-the-block Elliott (Giti Jabailly). To find solace on his lonely chicken farm, Emory befriends the uber-chicken Linda (Jessica Garrett), whom he attempts to save from the farm's lethal processing machine. A lyotard-clad narrator (Genevieve de Mahy) gaily directs the play's action, provides a voice for the clucking Linda, and wears the evening's best costume as a spider who attacks the hapless Linda under the porch.
The dreams of the play's characters are pop Americana. Emory would like to win stardom on a knockoff of American Idol with his disco ribbon dance; Elliott wants nothing more than the perfect prom date. Amid hilarious dance routines and eccentric jokes, the play deals with the serious issue of social roles and stereotypes. Nanna hectors the effeminate Emory and drags his doll aways from him; Elliott bullies Emory to the point of violence. In Nanna's world, everyone has a distinct role: men are brawny and aggressive, chickens are meant to end up fried on the plate. For the ever-sensitive Emory, even chickens (and moths) have souls and the equally sensitive Linda must be saved from the death machine's blades. Although the admonitions against bullying push the play beyond a pop cartoon, the audience may want to come up for air when the preaching becomes overheated.
At the center of the action is Aldo Pantoja's exuberant performance as Emory. His lythe dances and sentimental protests capture adolescent angst in a boy who is simply different from the others and who sympathizes with similarly misshapen others. The rest of the cast is similarly energetic; director Nathan Cooper continues Single Carrot's brand of athletic, mobile performance. But these performances have a one-note montony. Nanna is all bark with little humanity in her devotion to her farm and grandson; Linda is vaguely pleasant rather than endearing. One of the heroes of the evening is Melanie Lester and her team of designers from the Maryland Institute College of Art; their colorful and witty costumes light up Conkel's pop fantasy of fame and fulfillment.