An eleven-year-old girly boy named Emory, the barnyard chicken who’s his best friend, his caring but Leviticus-spouting granny, and the self-loathing, Emory-loving bad-boy-next-door add up to an hour-and-a-quarter of delightful, insightful, ultimately quite touching adult storybook fun in Joshua Conkel’s MilkMilkLemonade, the latest from Santa Ana’s Theatre Out.
Emory (Julian Ronquillo) may be a small-town boy, but he’s got big-time Broadway dreams, not the easiest thing to have when you live thirty minutes from the nearest Mall Town and your Nanna (Shannon Page) quotes Scripture to prove that “fags are nasty” before confiscating your favorite Barbie because “you have a pee-pee between your legs and so that is who you are. A boy!”
At least Emory’s got the white-feathered, wattle-sporting Linda (Laura DeLano) around for support, or he will until the day Nanna stuffs the poor bird into the processing machine, a fate from which Emory has fortunately protected his bff till now.
And then there’s neighborhood pyro Elliot (Nikolas Powers), as likely to call Emory “faggot,” “butt pirate,” or “fudge packer” as he is to invite him into the barn to play house. (“You moaned last time,” he reminds Emory.)
Completing MilkMilkLemonade’s cast of characters is The Lady In The Black Leotard (Lori Kelley), doing quadruple duty narrating Emory’s tale, playing the “parasitic twin” dwelling inside Elliot’s leg, translating clucks into common English, and giving voice to the spider of every chicken’s nightmares.
For the 13-and-older set however, MilkMilkLemonade provides a glimpse into Red-State America accompanied by life lessons it’s never too late to learn.
Emory’s conflicted relationships with his Nanna and with Elliot are reminders of how the people who love the most you can hurt you the worst, sometime even deliberately through fear of the unknown.
Nanna’s insistence that Emory grow up to be a “big strong man like [his] daddy … thick as a barrel and hairy as a wooky” and Elliot’s that Emory play the girl’s role in their prepubescent sex play illustrates the pervasiveness of gender stereotyping in today’s world.
And a scene between Linda and a spider, one that at first seems unnecessary padding, ends up playing an important role in Emory’s coming of age, instructing him in courage and sacrifice in the face of imminent death.
Director David C. Carnevale fills the Theatre Out stage with sparkling, often powerful performances.
Ronquillo could not make for a more adorably appealing Elliot, whether soft-shoeing with Linda to Harpers Bizarre’s “Anything Goes” or performing a ribbon-stick dance to Nina Simone’s “Ain’t Got No/I Got Life” while dreaming of auditioning for TV’s Reach For The Stars or attempting to resist Powers’ magnetic Elliot, the latter providing the evening’s most heartstrings-pulling moment in a tux that would do Blane McDonough proud.
Kelley once again proves herself a Theatre Out treasure as a) a stage-frightened narrator (and enthralled observer), b) a United Nations-ready instant Chicken-to-English translator, c) the parasitic devil living who makes Elliot do it, d) Rochelle, who can’t help her arachnid nature, and e) a velvet-voiced, life-sized Starlene who’s “been to paradise” but “never been to me.”
De Lano steals scenes and wins hearts with the most expressive clucking on record (and a Brooklyn boid’s attempts to be the foist avian Elaine Boosler), and a terrifically tetchy Page vanishes into Nanna’s chain-smoking, tough-loving skin.
Carnevale and Joey Baital give MilkMilkLemonade a just-right children’s book look—set, costumes, stuffed chickens, and lighting adding up to the kind of simple but effective production design the Theatre Out co-founders do best, and De Lano and Ronquillo score points for their delightful choreography.
Brian Robrecht is stage manager.
Short and bitter-sweet and absolutely lovely, MilkMilkLemonade is yet another Theatre Out gem.
Theatre Out, 402 W. 4th Street, Santa Ana.
November 11, 2106
Photos: David C. Carnevale