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: Glitter in the Gutter (Annoyance Theatre)

Filthy. Gorgeous. A bit of a Drag.

glitter-gutter photo: Zach Dodson

Annoyance Theatre presents:

Glitter in the Gutter

**The first and only live Drag Queen Sitcom**

written and directed by Kellen Alexander
through March 11 (more info)

By Keith Ecker

Who among us has not pondered the secret lives of drag queens? When the lights at the cabaret fade and the bar lets its regulars loose upon the night, where does the entertainment go? And what of the less successful divas, those that harbor Ru Paul dreams while clunking around in chintzy platform heels?

Glitter in the Gutter, a new play produced by Annoyance Productions and directed and written by Kellen Alexander, tells this story. Or to be more precise, it tells the story of two particular drag queens who are tragically trashy, down on their luck and caught on the cusp of eviction.

glitter-poster The play opens on the shared apartment of Pepper LaRoo (Seth Dodson) and Velveeta Fitzgerald (Wes Perry). Pepper, slender, graceful and nursing a throbbing head, is the Patsy to Velveeta’s somewhat more grounded Edina (see AbFab). The headache interferes with Pepper’s memory of the night prior, but she does recall meeting a man whose number she stored in her phone.

Enter Beverly Poon (Sarah Fineout), a rival performer with a voice that sounds like she’s gargling gravel. It is through her that Pepper discovers the man she met the night before was none other than Vinnie Cancer (Ben Kass), a famous record producer. Of course, this sends Pepper and Velveeta into a tizzy. They decide to invite Vinnie over for a date with the ulterior motive of landing a record contract.

When Vinnie stops by, he hands Pepper a slip of paper to fulfill her wish. Wanting a piece of the fame pie, Velveeta attempts to woo Vinnie to sign her as well. Caring more for image than talent, Vinnie lets Velveeta down hard. Little does Vinnie know that his newfound flame can move her mouth to music but is completely tone deaf.

Scorned, Velveeta runs away from home. She befriends a bag lady (Rachel Reed) in the alley out back and settles down for a life of domesticity and Dumpsters.

The play is the kind of over-the-top, absurdist comedy reminiscent of Charles Busch or John Waters . It’s campy, it’s crass and it’s unapologetically gay. But wash off the rouge and the eye shadow, and the play’s flaws become more apparent.

Although Alexander is obviously talented—he, along with Dodson, are part of the phenomenal improv group 1, 2, 3, Fag! — he seems overwhelmed with managing writing and directing duties. Likely unable to give both adequate attention, the writing and the pacing of the play suffer from a lack of concision.

Jokes that would otherwise kill fall flat when the punch line gets lost in a tangle of words. Also, too often too much is said that could easily have been accomplished with action. This slows down the pacing of the overall play, making the first act in particular feel like a drag.

It is in the subtleties that Alexander excels. One of the funniest parts of the play is when Officer Rick Pony (Alex Moffat) makes his entrance wearing roller shoes. No dialogue needed. The same goes with the inclusion of a window that is operated off stage by a pulley. It’s a simple and cheesy stage piece that serves a purpose and is used to great comedic effect.

Dodson and Perry are both talented actors. Dodson’s delivery and soft-spokenness, his agile dance moves and his comedic timing make him an attention magnet. Perry, who sounds an awful lot like Mrs. Garrett from the Facts of Life, has a strong voice and a commanding presence as well.

I have to give special recognition to Reed, whose deadpan portrayal of an off-kilter homeless woman is a scene-stealer. She also is fortunate to have the best dialogue in the entire play.

If Glitter in the Gutter aspires to be in the same ranks as other campy classics, it misses its mark. But it’s an entertaining piece none-the-less that is sure to please fans of kitsch and drag.

Rating: ★★½

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