Kirsten Greenidge’s deeply flawed but endlessly charming characters in MILK LIKE SUGAR (@ BCA through Feb. 27th) win over your heart even as you hope against hope they won’t repeat the mistakes of an earlier generation. Greenidge’s dialogue just melts in their mouths and bounces against our eardrums, as three bright high school girls pledge to be friends forever, sharing birthdays, shopping, tattoos and, sadly, pregnancy.
Greenidge was inspired by news headlines a couple of years back which reported that students at Gloucester High had joined a “pregnancy pact.” The rumors were false but the idea for a play stuck. The three teenagers in MILK LIKE SUGAR know what’s trending on the net. They know a “Coach bag” is high on “the list” of what’s in. So are tattoos and clubbing. Even old school magazines like Vogue pitch to teenagers now, with page after page of models with tattoos and expensive handbags, not to mention the flagrant influences in pop music and on television.
What these sixteen year olds don’t know is the sobering side of motherhood. Their emotions are overwhelmed by outrageous notions of baby showers and oodles of gifts. The future for them means a newer version of an iphone. They think a baby will provide unconditional love: Talisha (Shazi Raja) says it outright. “What else we got?”
College isn’t even on the table for economic reasons and when a classmate voices his plan to get an education (with good grades and financial aid), Annie (Jasmine Carmichael) doesn’t believe him. And she doesn’t heed his warning about getting pregnant. Even Annie’s mother (Ramona Lisa Alexander) tries, having been there herself. Why isn’t anyone getting through? A teenage brain is developing. It doesn’t have impulse control… and Greenidge doesn’t offer up any rosy, “feel good” solutions… but she does give us hope. There’s always hope.
The best thing Greenidge gives us is a delightful window into popular culture. These are good girls, smart girls. They’re not into drugs. They drink a little but that’s not what drives them. They want something out of life. They just don’t know how to get it. Greenidge’s play doesn’t feel like a cautionary tale. It doesn’t feel like we’re watching a train wreck. We’re in on their spontaneity and their joyous, hilarious (but shortsighted) innocence.
Booker T. Washington famously said that “Character is power.” These girls have character to spare. They just don’t recognize their power. Greenidge creates powerful characters all around, like Alexander’s stressed-to-the-max mother who takes righteous umbrage at Shanae Burch’s evangelical pronouncement, “Jesus will provide.” Her reaction is priceless and so are the performances of Raja, Carmichael and Carolina Sanchez in director Bevin O’Gara’s hip, hopping, heartbreaking production.