Review by Tulis McCall
Thank goodness for Tonya Pinkins who brings some gravitas to this unintentionally light-weight show.
Three young women Talisha (Cherise Boothe), Annie (Angela Lewis), and Margie (Nikiya Mathis) have been friends since seventh grade. Now that Annie is turning 16, it is time to up the stakes. All three agree (more or less) to get pregnant or “PG” together. The will choose boys who have slider phones instead of a flip phone. They will be lionesses strutting the street with their Luis Vuitton or Prada or Burberry matching jogging strollers and baby outfits. Their children will be cuddly and loving. Life will be perfect.
This would be fine if this was played out as a wild fantasy. But it is treated as reality, until Annie starts to veer away from her friends because life is offering other possibilities. Her friends, even when the reality of finance, doctors and physical abuse enter the picture, stay committed to their path of motherhood. On the home front, her mother Myrna (Tonya Pinkins) is a brittle, disappointed and delusional woman who will snatch her daughter down from the heights of hope at the drop of a hat. Trapped between her mother and her friends, Annie doesn’t stand much of a chance.
Greenidge tries and succeeds as delivering the angst of a teenager combined with the very serious circumstance of teenage motherhood. Annie is on the cusp of hearing her own voice, and we can feel it erupting. Malik (J. Mallory-McCree), her sometimes boyfriend, has his sight set on college. Even though he steals his mother’s meds and sells them on the street for spending money, he is getting out. Annie’s friends have chosen Malik to be the father of Annie’s baby, but he is having none of that. The only other person in Annie’s corner is Keera (Adrienne C. Moore) whose faith in God is slightly askew.
Annie’s life is like a mine field that explodes in the final and wrenching scene with her mother that ends with Myrna tossing this in her daughter’s face, “Whole world crack open for you like an egg cause you deserve better than me? You don’t deserve better than me. Ain’t no one up in here thinking you so special you deserve better, Annemarie Desmond. Cause I’ll tell you the truth, the honest truth, you ain’t worth shit.” It takes some fine actor to pull off a bomb like that and Pinkins scores a direct hit.
Later, in a reunion with Malik, Annie offers this advice, “Like if it was me giving your speech. I’d. Say something about that box of milk, like sugar, on your cabinet shelves. We supposed to be drinking real milk ‘stead we fed that powdered kind that looks like sugar—school feeds us sugar, the streets of this place feed us sugar—and we like it, we lap it up, we at the ready for it like it Vitamin D added, one hundred percent pure goodness meant to feed us stead of rot our insides out. Milk like sugar on all our shelves in this place and we happy for it. Shit. Stupid.”
There is some powerful truth in this play, but we lose a lot of it because the fabric of the piece is like gauze. We get bits and pieces that are weighty and rich, but the entire structure is not strong enough to hold it together.
Ms. Greenidge has a lot to say, and I hope her voice continues to be heard. Like Annie, she is in search of her own self. I wish her safe travels
"Provocative new play. ...It’s got some disappointing problems ..., although as performed by the terrific cast under the direction of Rebecca Taichman, the play always entertains."
Charles Isherwood for New York Times
"Smart and unsettling and remarkably acted drama "
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"The title refers to the sweet powdered milk that offers far more flavor than nutritional value. But the tart “Milk Like Sugar” offers plenty of both."
Frank Scheck for New York Post
"Riveting new play."
David Sheward for Back Stage
"Greenidge’s flavorful language, believable characters and concise storytelling give the audience an absorbing 100 minutes."
Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey
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