Milking It

The Yale Cabaret likes to take chances.  One of its chancier methods, as is the case with Joshua Conkel’s MilkMilkLemonade, is to cast an entire play with non-acting majors, here directed by an actor, Jabari Brisport.  Other students—both in YSD and in other schools at Yale—step out of their area of concentration to take part as well.  Sometimes this approach gives to the proceedings a feel of liberation from the strictures of theater—we have the sense that the play is open to everyone.  But it’s also an approach that works best, it seems to me, with plays that don’t have quite as many lines and as much busyness as MilkMilkLemonade does. It’s the story of Emory (Xaq Webb, winningly fey), a boy who likes to play with his Barbie-like doll, and who has befriended an enormous chicken he calls Linda (Lico Whitfield, in feathers and blonde wig, with his glasses and beard intact), but who also gets bullied by his “Rockin’ Nanna” (Melissa Zimmerman, surly, complete with oxygen mask and walker) for not doing what boys should do, and both bullied and molested by the local tough kid, Elliot (Bonnie Antosh, appealingly androgynous) for being, well, different. There’s also Lady in a Leotard (Heidi Liedke, perky) who helps with exposition and also interprets Linda’s clucks at times, as well as enacting the evil twin that Elliot imagines living inside him.   It all takes place on a chicken farm not too far from thriving Malltown where Emory would like to shop and have Cinnabon everyday.  He also wants to perform his ribbon dance routine on an American-Idol-like show on TV, thus rocketing to fame.

The cast is game, and there are more than a few comic instances—such as some cavorting in nude suits by Webb and Antosh, little sewn-on penises dangling, and Zimmerman’s changeable Nanna, gasping and shaky when it suits her purpose but otherwise—“I’ll outlive you all”—tough as nails, and everything Whitfield does is funny; I particularly liked his routine as a bad stand-up comedian of the Andrew Dice Clay variety.  Liedke is charming as Lady in a Leotard, but I found myself questioning at times Conkel’s choices in breaking up action with asides.  At the heart of it all is not simply “tolerance” of gays, but rather acceptance and understanding, as Emory and Elliot enact a sensitive scene in which they try to come to terms with what’s happening between them, made amusing by their idea of “playing house”: a bit of Tennessee Williamsesque vamping à la Stanley and Blanche.

MilkMilkLemonade has a lot on its plate, and a great, bright, kid-show-like set by Brian Dudkiewicz and Samantha Lazar, and fun costumes by Soule Golden. By its end the play seemed to be groping for what note it wanted to end on—an interlude between Linda and a spiteful spider with a ghetto attitude (Liedke with a recorded voice) seemed extraneous whimsy, and torching the chicken farm, I guess, a stab at liberating the oppressed.  MilkMilkLemonade runs long for the usually quick and dirty Cab, and could do with some trimming, though it does fulfill Andy Warhol’s dictum: “always leave them wanting less.”

Next week, due to unforeseen circumstances, Eugene Ionesco’s The Chairs has been cancelled, which means the Cab will be dark for the next two weeks and return on November 29-December 1 with Cat Club, an entertainment act involving songs, cats, and cooking.

MilkMilkLemonade By Joshua Conkel Directed by Jabari Brisport

Set Designer: Brian Dudkiewicz; Assistant Set Designer: Samantha Lazar; Costume Designer: Soule Golden; Lighting Designer: Caitlin Smith Rapoport; Sound Designers: Steve Brush, Matt Otto; Dramaturg: Hugh Farrell; Stage Manager: Kate Ivins; Producer: Shane D. Hudson

Yale Cabaret November 8-10, 2012