BWW Review: MILK LIKE SUGAR at Mosaic Theater A Sensitive Portrayal of Teen Girlhood
With the election returns in, it is likely that women's issues will be at the forefront for the foreseeable future-but in ways women didn't expect, or ask for.
How timely, then, to have a show that focuses like a laser on the complex psychology of young women, as they make their first awkward steps into adulthood. Mosaic Theater's commitment to confronting our deepest community issues continues with Jennifer Nelson's stellar production of Milk Like Sugar, Kirsten Greenidge's Obie-award winning drama about teenage girls navigating their way through their high school years, the most treacherous of all.
Greenidge's young women are not your average Hallmark girls, all gauze and sweetness; each of them has an edge. As the jazzy, fast-paced opening sequence reveals, this threesome-Margie (Ghislaine Dwarka), Talisha (Renee Elizabeth Wilson), and Annie (Kashayna Johnson)-love dancing to hip-hop, tattoos, the latest cellphones, boys, and have a dangerous fascination with motherhood.
When Margie finds out she's pregnant, she hatches a plan to have her friends get pregnant too. Visions of the three of them marching down the sidewalk with matching strollers and diaper bags-which would magically materialize at their lavish baby showers-fill their heads. Talisha, the bully of the group complete with a domineering adult boyfriend, is game. But Annie has other ideas; a teacher at their high school has started stapling college brochures to her papers, a first glimpse of the world beyond and one that seems tantalizingly close. Which path will she choose, and how will that choice affect her closest friends?
Kashayna Johnson is a revelation as Annie, a girl whose future seems most at risk. Clearly not ready to "grow up" like Margie or Talisha, she is hilarious in her awkward attempt at hooking up with boyfriend Malik-like Annie, a good student with dreams of college. As Malik, Vaughn Ryan Midder gives us a young man ready to move on, and unwilling to put his or Annie's future at risk. Audiences have grown accustomed to the hook-up scene, where actors get all hot n' heavy; Greenidge gives us a couple who are actually groping their way towards "no," and it's a satisfying change of pace.
Renee Elizabeth Wilson burns down the house as Talisha, whose toughness clearly masks an extremely vulnerable young woman who has trouble at school, at home, wherever, and who has decided to fight her way through it all. Among her victims is Keera, the bookish kid who looks to all appearances like the insufferable goody-two-shoes we loved to hate back then (you know the kind-good for doing your homework for you, but nothing else). Tyasia Velines gives a quietly moving performance as Keera, whose secrets are hidden by Gospel passion and visions of promise-keeping dads. Above all the intrigues and evasions is the truth of life on the fringes of society, where cheap, chemically-tainted powdered milk - the milk of the title, which sits on the shelf-is what passes for sustenance.
What's especially sobering here is to realize that although these women have a very specific history-African-American girls in a working-class urban neighborhood-the peer pressure, the family dynamics, and the way that arguments lead to life-changing choices should be all too familiar. If we're honest with ourselves, these young women are our sisters, our daughters, our best friends, the ones who took tremendous risks on a whim, and found themselves saddled with enormous responsibilities beyond their ability to cope. The mirror is right there on stage, for everyone to see.
Luciana Stecconi's set is spare, serviceable and allows for fluid transitions in harmony with Dan Covey's lighting; and Marci Rodgers gives these young actors some instantly-recognizable fashion accents as well. Milk Like Sugar is a gem, and its sensitive treatment of all-too-familiar themes of family dysfunction, friendship and teen pregnancy make for a powerful evening out.
Running Time: 1 hours and 45 minutes, without Intermission.
Milk Like Sugar runs November 2-27 at the Atlas Performing Arts center, 1333 H Street NE, Washington, D.C. For tickets, visit http://www.mosaictheater.org/ or call the Atlas box office at 202-399-7993.