We gave it a B+
An ill-advised pregnancy pact prompts an inner-city teen to reevaluate her lack of ambition in Kirsten Greenidge’s fast-talking, victim-taking New York debut Milk Like Sugar at Off Broadway’s Playwrights Horizons. It’s a bit of a drama, a bit of a comedy — if you can call laughing at an overlooked, undereducated girl’s ignorance funny — and a definite showcase for the playwright and her lead actress, Angela Lewis.
Lewis plays Annie, an inner-city high school sophomore who’s celebrating her sweet 16 by getting a tattoo with the support of her best friends, the bubbly Margie (Nikiya Mathis) and abrasive Talisha (Cherise Boothe). Margie is also pregnant and happily babbles on about her upcoming baby shower and the promise of Coach diaper bags and Beyoncé-approved strollers. She’s so cheery that Annie and Talisha pinky-swear to join her in expectant motherhood by the end of the week, partially to have babies who ”love us just for us” and partially to get all that great loot.
Greenidge creates a world — a real world — where kids have learned that the only way out of the ghetto, mentally at least, is to own non-ghetto stuff. Boys are judged by their cell phones (flip phones are bad, slider phones are good, touchscreens are better), and girls by whatever mobile a guy is willing to buy for them. Having a baby is simply another status symbol.
Then Annie, who chooses to have a flame tattooed on her stomach, has a rendezvous with studious Malik (J. Mallory-McCree) that lights a fire in her belly to be different or, as Greenidge puts it, ”special.” She embarks on a confused search for more from life, seeking models from the various women in her life — Margie, Talisha, her bone-tired, cold mother (Tonya Pinkins), and born-again-Christian classmate Keera (Adrienne C. Moore). The aggressive chorus of Beyoncé’s ”Run the World (Girls)” that brackets each scene starts the play as a riotous anthem. Thirty minutes later, it’s a mocking rhyme.
It helps Milk Like Sugar that the lithe, youthful Lewis is so convincing as a teen — she never gives you the inkling that as a grown woman she knows better than her character. Greenidge doesn’t lay the blame for Annie’s tragic trajectory solely on working moms, friends, society, absentee dads, bad role models, hypocritical religious figures, peer pressure, or the ghetto. A fair share falls to Annie herself, who must ultimately choose whether to have sex and be ”special for just a minute” or continue looking for a way to be special all her life. B+
(Tickets: PlaywrightsHorizons.org or (212) 279-4200)