What a joy it is to go to a show in which the play, the production, and the performers click neatly into a well-formed, nearly flawless whole. That’s the case with Kirsten Greenidge’s sparkling new Milk Like Sugar, acutely directed by Rebecca Taichman.
The premise is pretty basic: when poor high school sophomore Margie (a manically effective if sometimes hard-to-understand Nikiya Mathis) gets pregnant, her two friends make a pact with her to have babies too—adorable perfect little girls, of course. Naturally the trio of clueless teens ends up in a lot more trouble than they bargained for.
But although it’s often funny, Milk Like Sugar is far deeper than farce. Annie (the wonderful Angela Lewis), the focal character, dreams of a life outside the sad lower-class bounds that have trapped her mother—played by the comically perfect Tonya Pinkins (who won a Tony for Jelly’s Last Jam)—into a drab life cleaning offices full of computers she herself can’t afford. Desperate for positive reinforcement, Annie doesn’t even know what to do with herself when she gets some—from Malik (J. Mallory-McCree), a dreamer with a telescope and a way with a (sometimes self-consciously) poetic imagination. Enlisted in the girls’ scheme to become Annie’s baby-daddy, Malik doesn’t play along. Instead he spurs her to wrestle with the deep questions of her life.
Annie is further inspired, and befuddled, when she befriends Keera (Adrienne C. Moore), overweight, religious, and a startling combination of shy meekness and evangelical force. Like Greenidge’s other female characters—and exactly like real humans—Keera is a complex being full of interesting powers and weaknesses and surprises. My one reservation about the play is that, in an admittedly well-deserved reversal of literary tradition, the male characters are less well fleshed-out than the female. Malik is there as a sort of magical inspirational figure for Annie, yet Keera who poses the same dynamic is a much more fascinating and real being. The struggling tattoo artist (LeRoy McClain) is also a bit thinly drawn, though his climactic scene has much power.
That quibble—”observation” might be a better word—is a very small one, about a stellar piece of theater. With crackling sound, evocative lighting, and sets cleverly swapped (by the actors, giving each other appropriately suspicious looks), it moves crisply along under Ms. Taichman’s sure direction, both entertaining and touching at almost every moment. Go see it!
Milk Like Sugar runs through Nov. 20 at Playwrights Horizons.