By Joshua Conkel, directed by Nathan Cooper
At Single Carrot Theatre Through Feb. 5
About three seconds into MilkMilkLemonade, Single Carrot Theatre’s current production, Genevieve de Mahy makes the audience laugh without saying a word. She stands awkwardly on the tiny stage, dressed in a plain black leotard, black stockings, and black flats. And then she keeps standing there. She starts to look nervous, and uncomfortable, attempts a few small smiles, and ever so quietly launches into a shy rendition of “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes,” all the while keeping the audience chuckling with her subtle physical comedy.
De Mahy serves as a sort of guide through the production, narrating, translating chicken clucks, and filling in extra roles such as a TV judge and a saucy spider named Rochelle. She drags the sun across the sky, dances with Emory (Aldo Pantoja), and moves wooden chickens around a farm, keeping the show together when everything starts to get a little a crazy.
And crazy it does get, in the best way possible. Emory is a flamboyantly gay fifth-grader, a skinny kid with knee socks who choreographs dance routines with his best friend Linda (Jessica Garrett). Linda’s a chicken, one of many on the farm Emory lives on with his Nanna (Elliott Rauh), a grumpy old woman lugging around an oxygen tank who just wants Emory to be like a “normal” boy.
Down the road lives Elliot (Giti Jabaily), a shy pyromaniac who picks on Emory at school and tries to get him to smoke cigarettes and play ball. Elliot’s actually a pretty sweet kid, but home life is hard, and it’s not helped by the evil parasitic twin living in his leg who serves as a kind of anti-conscience, played hilariously by de Mahy with a freaky stuffed fetus thing on her head. (This is the kind of play where this makes perfect sense.)
So now we’ve got our characters, and along comes conflict. Nanna confiscates Emory’s prized toy, a blond doll named Starla, and he’s devastated. Worse, it’s processing day at the farm, and Emory’s gotta find a way to protect Linda, who’s grown so large that he can’t just throw her in his backpack anymore. And Elliot’s always hanging around, wanting to “play house” in Nanna’s barn—he’s not quite as averse to Emory’s predilections as he pretends.
Joshua Conkel’s script is biting and unforgiving, not shying away from modern-day slurs like “fudge-packer” and “butt pirate” (which makes both the two 10-year-old boys and their relationship more believable). It’s also fantastically funny, full of one-liners that kept the audience—and this writer—in full-on LOL mode for the play’s brief duration. You haven’t seen standup until you’ve seen a chick in a chicken suit take the stage in a comedy club and call the audience bitches.
In SCT’s tiny space, the audience encroaches on the pretty little set, and sitting in a front-row seat (recommended) feels almost intrusive to the action. Pantoja performs a wild ribbon-dance routine, nearly stepping on feet with all his jumping and flailing. Linda runs into the audience to get away from Nanna and the processing machine.
But amid all the perfect silliness resides some serious—and seriously good—stuff. This play is about identity, and the story’s told on a number of levels. There’s a human playing a chicken, a man playing a kid, a girl playing a boy, a guy playing a grandma, and a woman playing a spider, a fetus, and sundry other characters. Elliot and Emory have a relationship too sexual for young boys, and it becomes even more confounding when the two play house, in what is the production’s most poignant scene. Emory is wife, Elliot husband, Emory telling Elliot she (he?) is pregnant while Elliot swills a beer and watches his stories. Pantoja and Jabaily slip subtly into their new roles, and you forget that you’re watching two boys—really a man playing a kid and a girl playing a boy—play a husband and wife. Everyone’s identities swirl together; the barnyard part of the set is dimmed and only the “house” remains. It’s a scene that’s simultaneously confusing yet simple, disturbing yet oddly beautiful, and when Nanna’s voice jerks the boys—and the audience—back into the reality of the farm, you’re sad to see it end.
Which pretty much goes for the entirety of the play. It clips along at a steady pace, full of fun and funny and what the fuck, and when the ending starts to loom it feels sadly premature, though so much as happened. But the play is destined to end, just as Linda is destined to become dinner, and so into the processor she goes, and on with his life Emory goes, and out into the night you go, 75 minutes older, a belly-full of laughs sillier, and, hopefully, just a tad wiser. Bravo.