Chicago Theatre Review
An Intimate, Heartbreaking Evening of Theater
Milk Like Sugar – Raven Theatre
The premise of “Milk Like Sugar” is a striking one – three girlfriends in an inner-city high school, skeptical of their future and their chances to escape the cycle of poverty, form a “pregnancy pact,” an agreement that they will become jointly pregnant and enter motherhood together. Striking indeed, and in the gifted hands of playwright Kirsten Greenidge (and a truly remarkable production at Raven Theatre), audiences will be treated to a play of uncommon empathy and honesty that is one of the richest portrayals of inner-city life that I’ve yet seen on a Chicago stage.
I used the adjective “remarkable” to describe the production of “Milk Like Sugar” as no mere hyperbole. Though staged at Raven Theatre, the company is presenting the play in an artistic alliance with The Yard, the theatre company for the Senn Arts magnet program of Senn High School in the city’s Edgewater neighborhood. Created just this year, The Yard provides Senn Arts students with the opportunity to produce and perform at professional theater facilities with the support of professional theatre companies; in addition to “Milk Like Sugar,” The Yard has collaborated with The Hypocrites and Jackalope Theatre Company in previous plays.
So though “Milk Like Sugar” does feature two professional actors – the wonderful Elana Elyce and the eloquent Brandon Greenhouse, the latter of whom recently starred in Raven’s sensational “Direct from Death Row The Scottsboro Boys” – all the other actors in the show are Senn Arts students, and I cannot praise highly enough the commitment and focus of these fine young actors, and the highly skilled, sensitive direction of Mechelle Moe and Joel Ewing, who co-directed.
The student actors and their parts are: Tevion Lanier, who plays Malik, an ambitious high school senior aiming to leave urban blight and never return; Megan Napier, who is equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking as Keera, the school nerd; and Lawren Carter, Sheharrell Rhodes, and Ireon Roach, who portray the three students at the heart of the story. Carter plays Talisha, a feisty, irascible personality whose aggressiveness shields an acute vulnerability; Rhodes plays Margie, a live-and-let-live spirit whose naïveté leads her to unexpected consequences; and Roach, perhaps the best actor of them all, plays Annie, the show’s principle character. Caught between her ambitions for a better life and her desperate desire for a richer existence in the here and now, Anne would present a challenge for even a seasoned actor, and I walked away from the show enormously impressed (and moved) by Roach’s talents.
“Milk Like Sugar” is undeniably bleak at times, but again, it’s a testament to the talents of Raven and The Yard that the play does not become an unrequited downer. Whether it be the carefree banter of the three main leads in the lobby of a tattoo shop or Keera’s lively interpretations of her favorite gospel numbers, the production balances the agonies and the ecstasies, bringing to the stage the realities we see every day on the streets of Chicago.
Reviewed by Peter Thomas Ricci
Presented through Jan. 23 by Raven Theatre Company, 6157 N. Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60660
Tickets are available by calling 773-338-2177 or by visiting www.raventheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other spectacular area productions is available at the one, the only, the indefatigable www.theatreinchicago.com.