Review: MilkMilkLemonade (Pavement Group)

  
  

Gender bending, ribbon dancing and talking chickens

  
  

Matt Farabee as Emory and Cyd Blakewell as Linda in Pavement Group's production of MilkMilkLemonade, a comedy by Joshua Conkel. Photo by Joel Moorman.

  
Pavement Group presents
  
MilkMilkLemonade
 
Written by Joshua Conkel
Directed by Cassy Sanders
at Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago (map)
through April 17  |  tickets: $20  |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker

MilkMilkLemonade, Pavement Group‘s newest theatrical undertaking, has all the conventions of a children’s play. You have the highly animated narrator, talking animals, a chintzy cardboard set, a slide whistle and heaping handfuls of scenery chewing. But the adult comedy is far from kid’s stuff. The play also features exposed mock penises, an Andrew Dice Clay impression and a little boy ribbon dancing to Nina Simone. It’s in the clashing of these two genres, the traditional children’s play and the bawdy adult comedy, where the piece mines much of its humor.

 Matt Farabee as Emory and Jessica London-Shields as Elliot in Pavement Group's production of MilkMilkLemonade, a comedy by Joshua Conkel. Photo by Joel Moorman.And there certainly is a lot of humor. MilkMilkLemonade is a riot, thanks in no small part to the extraordinarily talented and committed cast. And although the play lacks an emotional depth that would raise it to a four-star level, it’s not really about thought provocation. The goal here is campy comedy on par with the likes of Charles Busch or a British panto. And in this respect, it succeeds.

The cheekily named play is about a young farm boy named Emory (Matt Farabee) who, despite his conservative surroundings, harbors fabulous dreams of singing, dancing and stardom. He is not at all modest or shy when flamboyantly proclaiming his desires to be rich and famous or when practicing his Bob Fosse-inspired routines.

Unfortunately, being effeminate in rural America isn’t easy. Emory is the focus of ridicule among his peers, including neighbor Elliot (Jessica London-Shields). Elliot is a rough-and-tough ragamuffin who unknowingly serves as host to an evil parasitic twin. Despite Elliot’s public harassment of Emory, he hides a secret affection.

Emory is looked after by his Nanna (John Zinn), a salt-of-the-earth chicken farmer who is dying of cancer. Although her maternal love for Emory is unquestionable, she worries about his sensitivity and softness.

Meanwhile, Emory has a lone confidant—a giant talking chicken named Linda (Cyd Blakewell). Like Emory, Linda too has dreams that reach beyond the farm. She wants to be a comic. Will she live to see her big break, or will she be the feature attraction on a dinner plate?

The play’s humor shines through because of the brilliance of its performers. Farabee does an excellent job countering Emory’s boyhood innocence with his lustful sultriness. Blakewell embodies the Liza Minnelli, messy best friend archetype, while Zinn brings down the house with just the mere pronunciation of the word "chickens" (he pronounces it as "chickowns"). London-Shields evokes the most emotional depth by infusing real compassion into her portrayal of a sexually confused adolescent. And Sarah Rose Graber—who fills a number of roles including the narrator and who previously showed off her acting chops in Chemically Imbalanced Comedy’s The Book of Liz (our review)—continues to display an energy and innate sense of comedy that makes her one of the finest comedic actresses in Chicago.

     
 John Zinn as Nanna in Pavement Group's production of MilkMilkLemonade, a comedy by Joshua Conkel. Photo by Joel Moorman.  Cyd Blakewell as Linda, with Matt Farabee, Jessica London-Shields and Sarah Rose Graber as judges in Pavement Group's production of MilkMilkLemonade, a comedy by Joshua Conkel. Photo by Joel Moorman.
Jessica London-Shields as Elliot and Matt Farabee as Emory in Pavement Group's production of MilkMilkLemonade, a comedy by Joshua Conkel.  Photo by Joel Moorman. Pictured front to back: Matt Farabee as Emory, Cyd Blakewell as Linda and Sarah Rose Graber as Lady in a Leotard in Pavement Group's production of MilkMilkLemonade, a comedy by Joshua Conkel. Photo by Joel Moorman.

Director Cassy Sanders certainly had her work cut out for her. The script is manic. Monologues interrupt scenes, the narrator breaks the fourth wall and wacky scenarios are paired with serious subject matter. Sanders reins everything in to create a cohesive piece that has a definite arch and a quick pace. However, I would like to see a little more fluctuation in the tone. Sanders passes up a few opportunities for emotional vulnerability that could create added depth to the production.

I also wish the playwright’s biography was listed in the program. Young New York-based playwright Joshua Conkel penned the play, which garnered several accolades, including an award for Best Off-Off Broadway Show in 2009 by New York Press. MilkMilkLemonade evidences Conkel’s strong voice, whimsy and unique sense of humor.

If you’re in the mood for a queer campy comedy, you can’t go wrong with MilkMilkLemonade. Although it’s in the style of a children’s play, the production’s adult humor is not for kids. Yet, its message of self-love is suitable for all ages.

  
Rating: ★★★½
  
  
Matt Farabee as Emory in Pavement Group's production of MilkMilkLemonade, a comedy by Joshua Conkel. Photo by Joel Moorman. John Zinn as Nanna and Matt Farabee as Emory (holding Starlene) in Pavement Group's production of MilkMilkLemonade, a comedy by Joshua Conkel. Photo by Joel Moorman.

All photos by Joel Moorman.

Featuring Cyd Blakewell, Matt Farabee, Sarah Rose Graber, Jessica London-Shields & John Zinn

     
     

REVIEW: Robin Hood: The Panto! (Piccolo Theatre)

  
  

Raucous humor amidst the Dark Forest

  
  

piccolo theatre, robin hood, 2010, Fairy (Vanessa Hughes), Robin Hood (Berner Taylor), Fairy (Amy Gorelow), Bess Flatbottom (Andrew Roberts)

  
Piccolo Theatre presents
   
Robin Hood: The Panto!
   
Written by Jessica Puller
Music by Tyler Beattie
Directed by Glenn Proud & Brianna Sloane
at Evanston Arts Depot, 600 Main (map)
through Dec 18  | 
tickets: $25  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

You’ve got to hand it to Piccolo Theatre for perennially bringing a bit of wacky English theater tradition to Evanston environs each holiday season. British Pantos are pure, unadulterated silliness. At Robin Hood: The Panto!, expect all the traditional British ribaldry—cheering the hero, booing the villain, and shouting, “He’s behind you!” when our hero is under sneak attack. The real fun of the show is witnessing full-on participation from a typically polite and respectful theater crowd.

Bess Flatbottom (Andrew Roberts) and Robin Hood (Berner Taylor)Oh—and the Dame (Andrew Roberts)—did I forget to mention that one must whistle and hoot every entrance made by the Dame? Shame on me! Whistle the Dame, everyone, or be known as real drag.

Co-directed by Glenn Proud and Brianna Sloane, Robin Hood: The Panto! is the newly-minted creation of young playwright Jessica Puller, who authored their successful last year’s panto, Perseus and Medusa: or It’s All Greek To Me (our review ★★★). You’d better not expect something like the Ridley Scott or Kevin Reynolds’ versions of the Robin Hood legend—Puller takes a nice big swipe at those.

No, in this version, Robin Hood (Berner Taylor) looks hot in fishnets but has a head the size of a watermelon from all the hero worship he gets from fans and the media. An eager overreacher, Scarlet (Nicole Keating) just wants to be part of Robin’s Merry Men but Robin, Little John (Adam McLeavey) and Alan A Dale (Maxx Miller) never cut her the slack to let her join. Of course, it’s tough when one is constantly outshone and out-thieved by Philip, the Cow (Vanessa Hughes and Amy Gorelow). Rescuing the lovely Maid Marian (Kaitlin Chin) from the deliciously sinister and effete Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Ben Muller) is a weekly event, but this time a trek to The Dark Forest leads Scarlet to discover a magic spell book by which she can rewrite events as she wills.

Piccolo’s production shamelessly rips off “I Love Lucy” and every other old vaudeville bit and joke. When I say old, friends, I mean that, no doubt, many of these jokes and shticks were unearthed from the catacombs. But the cast excels at driving a sassy pace and playing every moment with gusto. What is even more important is the spot-on improvisation and interaction with the audience that they deliver. On opening night, an audience member trying to sneak back into her seat after intermission was greeted with a scathing “Nice of you to join us!” from Sir Guy. But our plucky audience gave as well as they got. Once the Sheriff of Nottingham (Vic May) got turned into a duck from Scarlet’s magic spell book, someone from the audience yelled out “AFLAC!”

The Fairies (Vanessa Hughes and Amy Gorelow) piccolo theatre, robin hood, 2010, Fairy (Vanessa Hughes), Robin Hood (Berner Taylor), Fairy (Amy Gorelow), Bess Flatbottom (Andrew Roberts) Robin Hood (Berner Taylor)

Other memorable moments include Noah Ginex’s magic scene and puppetry design, as well as Vanessa Hughes and Amy Gorelow playing the evil spirits of the Dark Forest, busting out a power ballad just like the 1980’s duo, Heart. But the show really is about the pact between audience and players to have a ridiculous, raucous good time. To that end, bring your friends and family. And watch out for the whipped cream.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
   
   

Fairy (Amy Gorelow)