Emory, 11, wants to choreograph ribbon dances. He wants to be on TV's “Reach for the Stars.” He likes his red-haired doll and his pet chicken, Linda.
But his Nanna, who is raising Emory on a run-down chicken farm, has other ideas.
“Boys have got to be boys,” she tells her grandson. “We gotta follow the plan God gave us.”
The conflict between who Emory wants to be and whom Nanna and society tell him he needs to be is at the heart of Joshua Conkel's “Milk Milk Lemonade,” which SNAP Productions opened last weekend as part of its double-bill SNAPFest.
Don't let the show's off-putting title keep you away. Director Robert Williams and a talented cast deftly keep their balance on a tightrope between broad silliness and the seriousness of the underlying issue of sexual identity.
Keeping the comedic tone just right is tricky stuff, but the show manages to be quite funny while, at the same time, pulling you in to empathize with some fairly outrageous characters.
There's Emory (ever sincere Michael Martinez), who occasionally breaks into dance duets with the chicken.
There's Elliot (Matt Uehling), the cruel, angry neighbor boy who harasses Emory about being girly but who reveals other feelings when they play house.
Nanna (Dani Cleveland) takes off her oxygen to have just one more cigarette, even as her mental lapses add color and hilarity to her pronouncements.
Linda (Kathleen Lomax), a chicken with attitude, loves Emory, who tries to keep her out of Nanna's clutches whenever the chicken-processing machine is fired up.
And the Lady in Black Leotard, a rather nervous narrator, also serves as a translator of chicken clucks, as an evil twin who prods Elliot to do bad things, and as a spider under Nanna's porch who attacks when Linda hides there on processing day.
I think the hiphop-infused spider, hilariously brought to life by Sarah Liken, was my absolute favorite, though all the character acting in this piece deserves praise. It doesn't feel like they're playing for laughs, but rather immersing themselves in their characters to the hilt — and the laughs flow naturally from that.
A couple of dance and lip-sync sequences go on a little longer than they need to, and Conkel's script digresses from the matter at hand just to roll around in silliness more than it should.
But watching Elliot and Emory writhe as they pretend to be boneless chickens is funny anyway. And a wrist corsage that appears toward the end says it all because it matters.
The set is as simple as black curtains, mock cornstalks made of lath, a cardboard-box chicken-processing machine and a red barn wall.
With this cast, that's all that's needed to entertain, and even enlighten, for an intermissionless 70 minutes.
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