BWW Review: ArtsWest's Gripping MILK LIKE SUGAR Needs Some Time to Settle
A play like "Milk Like Sugar" about three teenage girls making a pact to all get pregnant while still in school would be a ridiculous premise if it weren't for the fact that it's based in reality. And while the current production at ArtsWest may boast some gripping performances, opening night also contained some glaring shortcomings that I hope will be overcome as the show settles over the run.
Based on the 2008 story of the Glouchester High School girls who entered into a "pregnancy pact" we focus on Annie (Allyson Lee Brown), a 16 year old girl who enters into a pact with her two friends Talisha and Margie (Jay O'Leary and Nastacia Guimont) to get pregnant by whatever means necessary in order to all have babies at the same time. Margie's already pregnant and so Talisha and Annie must catch up quick in order for their dream lives of having cute little babies together as they get lavish presents from their friends and family to come true. But when Annie begins to actually connect with her intended baby daddy Malik (Dimitri Woods) as well as getting to know her new religious friend Keera (Lindsay Zae Summers) she starts to question the plan as she sees there are other paths to becoming a happy and stable adult.
The tale and Kirsten Greenidge's script are quite engaging especially with Greenidge's starkly honest dialog but the production needs some work. Malika Oyetimein's direction lacks a solid pace for the story as well as characters that are all in the same show, and the staging several times resulted in bad sight line moments. You can have phenomenal performances in a show but if the audience can't see them then we can't connect with them. Add into that technical aspects that felt wonky at best with light and sound cues cutting in and out for no reason and clumsy scene changes that they tried to mask with stylized movement that lent nothing to the story.
The performances from the ensemble are quite strong individually. Brown manages a sweet and likable if not quite naïve girl and you strive for her to succeed which is only complimented by Marlette Buchannan as her mother who desperately holds on to dreams of her own. Andre G. Brown too manages a wonderful portrayal of an adult in this world who has yet to grow out of his unrealistic dreams. O'Leary and Guimont bring in some wonderful individuality to the same delusion of Annie's as each of them strives for their own idyllic life. Especially O'Leary who turned in a quite sobering monologue that I only wish I could have seen better thanks to those sight lines. And Woods and Summers each brings in some delightful moments as the somewhat more grown up and definitely less destructive influences each complete with their own shortcomings and doubts. But while these performances were individually strong the show as a whole lacked a cohesiveness of an ensemble that connected with each other.
I would like to say that the show will get better over time and in some aspects I'm sure it will. The technical issues I'm sure will be worked out and as the actors settle hopefully they can connect more with each other allowing the audience to connect more but over the four week run I question whether they can overcome the pacing and staging issues. And so with my three letter rating system I give ArtsWest's production of "Milk Like Sugar" a shaky MEH+ with a hopeful YAY-. It's certainly a strong play and story but the production has a way to go to catch up with the intensity of the script.
"Milk Like Sugar" performs at ArtsWest through March 25th. For tickets or information contact the ArtsWest box office at 206-938-0339 or visit them online at www.artswest.org.