Sunday, December 4, 2011
KBAQ Radio/Curtainupphoenix.com

“Milk, Milk Lemonade,” Stray Cat Theatre’s latest, is a wacky, irreverent view of a young gay boy trying to live in the conventional world on his grandmother’s chicken farm. It tells us it’s OK to be gay even if society doesn’t approve. There’s lots of weirdness in how playwright Joshua Conkel’s tells this story and how the Stray Cat production looks at this situation that has been examined a lot recently.

For starters, casting is unusual. A man plays the boy’s Nanna and a woman plays Emory, the boy. There’s a talking hen, Linda, you come to know and love so when the chicken faces the expected slaughter, there’s a pang of sadness. There’s Emory’s friend, Elliot, who the grandmother wants her grandson to emulate, but Elliot has his own secrets – he’s also gay, lusts after Emory, and loves to set fires. Finally, there’s a madcap narrator, Lady in a Leotard, who is also played by a man. Nothing conventional here and the short play takes an unusual route to discuss emerging gayness in young people.

The Stray Cat staging is fine. It’s well acted, cleverly directed, and creatively conceived. Louis Farber stages it with an exhilarating pace making the play breeze by effortlessly as it spins its bizarre storytelling. The director is blessed with a bright barnyard set that allows the various plot machinations to play well and a chorus of chickens is crafted using little models.

Best is the able cast. Kaleena Newman plays Emory with just a hint of gayness. There’s nothing blatant or outlandishly over-the-top in her playing of this gay kid. And you forget quickly that an actress plays Emory. Sam Wilkes shines as Nanna sashaying around concerned that her grandson might not be straight but flipping a bird to his gender. It’s a hoot of a performance. Rod Amez suggests almost immediately that he has his eye on Emory but the cautious confirmation still comes as a surprise as this character could be either straight or gay. Molly Kurtz clucks up a storm as Linda, the chicken, as she endears herself to audiences. Finally, Michael Thompson has a field day with the Lady in a Leotard. He plays the character proudly as he explains things to the audience, translates Linda’s chicken clucks, and keeps us moving ahead with Conkel’s message.

“Milk, Milk Lemonade” makes an excellent case that gays are no different than others and should be entitled to live their lives and pursue their loves without societal judging, but this oft told message is looked at uniquely here. “Milk, Milk Lemonade” continues through December 17.