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Milk Like Sugar

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Awards-winning playwright Kirsten Greenidge’s newest, Milk Like Sugar, is about hope, but not in a good way. Hoping for a life radically different from the one you have can have dire consequences if you are unwilling or unable to effect your own drastic change. All but one of the wonderfully crafted and excellently acted characters in the world premiere at La Jolla Playhouse discovers that hope can be a misleading and incorrigible grace, tantalizingly out of reach for those not born under a fortuitous star.

But, in the beginning, the three 16-year-old BFF’s struggling with parents, boyfriends, teachers, and life in general, are not bothering with that. Annie (an engaging Angela Lewis), Talisha (a feisty Cherise Boothe), and Margie (a naively appealing Nikiya Mathis) are rebellious, sarcastic, energetic high school girls. Their clique is their touchstone, and they are constant in it. Their ambitions are small ones, represented by longings for material things that symbolize status in their high school world—cell phones with touch screens, Coach bags, and anything pink.

In the beginning, Talisha, Annie, and Margie are hanging out in a neighborhood place, waiting for Antwoine (a manly LeRoy McClain), the guy who will tattoo Annie, and a happy birthday phone call from Annie’s mom, Myrna (a powerfully tough Tonya Pinkins). Only one of those things will take place. It is Annie’s 16th birthday, and the ladybug she wants, or the rose Talisha wants her to have, or the flame she suddenly chooses is a present to herself. That bit of fire will grow, literally and figuratively, as the girl with nothing to dream about becomes a young woman with potential.

The outcome of Annie’s flickering faith, in herself, in a friend or two, and in her family drives the story that unfolds, touchingly and disturbingly, impeccably and precisely directed by Rebecca Taichman on the Potiker Stage. There is plenty of humor in this fast-paced play; there is no dearth of sadness, either. Thanks to Scenic Designer Mimi Lien’s minimalist concept, a big gray wall that moves relentlessly forward as if to shrink Annie’s world, the action and the emotions come ever closer to the audience, as well. There is no hiding from what happens here.

What the teen trio wants to happen, at first, is a collective pregnancy followed by a collective motherhood and a life-long loyalty to each other and their daughters. They make a pregnancy pact. Margie has a head start, as she is already several weeks into her first term. Talisha wastes no time, flashing the positive stick from her pregnancy kit a couple of weeks later. When a tryst with Malik (a resolute J. Mallory-McCree), her first choice of sperm donor, fizzles, Annie has time for some second thoughts.

Encouraging her in a directional change is the earnest Malik, stargazer and college aspirant. If only she could look beyond her insignificant world and glimpse the infinite, she could adopt a hopeful and reachable view. Offering another heavenly direction is Keera (a sympathetic Adrienne C. Moore), an evangelical and the school outcast, who advocates a “purity ball” and family game nights as God’s better way.

Uninvolved is the person who should have the highest stake in Annie’s life choices, her mother.

But Myrna is too tired and soul-sore to look up from the dirty floors she cleans for a living and the tattered notebook in which she writes the stories she hopes will lead to another life with movie contracts.

The story of this play is not one that affirms such fantasies. It twists some expectations and truths, in poignant scenes of Keera’s revelation and Talisha’s consequences. It highest arc, however, comes in a mother-daughter confrontation. Their blazing conflagration explodes Myrna’s castle in the sky and melts down Annie’s sparking imagination. It is an inferno of a scene that blows up any positive expectations.

In the aftermath, no one is left unburned. And everyone finds out that hope is not a caring soul-sister.

Milk Like Sugar plays on the Potiker Theatre stage of the La Jolla Playhouse through September 25.  Performances are: 7:30 pm Tues-Weds; 8 pm Thurs-Sat; 7 pm Sun. Matinees Sat-Sun at 2 pm.Tickets are: $35-69  Reservations: 858-550-1010 or lajollaplayhouse.org

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.