Heart and Dagger Productions presents a challenge with verve; its newest production of MilkMilkLemonade is not for the faint-hearted.
Set in a fictitious town, young Emory (played by “Bad Boy of Theatre” Joey C. Pelletier) dreams of a life outside his Nanna (played excellently in drag by Mikey DiLoreto)’s farm. He is just a regular eleven-year-old boy who choreographs dances to “Anything Goes” with his human-sized chicken friend, Linda (played with subtle and finely-tailored movements by Erin Rae Zalaski) and dreams of performing on Star Search. Everything is perfectly choreographed in young Emory’s life until he meets Elliot, the boy down the road (played in convincing drag by Melanie Garber). Elliot is exactly what you would expect from an eleven-year-old boy- an angry pyromaniac with a twin growing out of his leg.
If this short description has not sold you on the premise, maybe the production’s wide range of themes and topics from homosexuality to corporations to vegetarianism to friendship will convince you that MilkMilkLemonade is one cool drink to swallow.
I was lucky enough to meet Pelletier before the performance and got an inside scoop on the show. I rarely see a play that I haven’t read before, but I’ll admit that I was unfamiliar with MilkMilkLemonade before seeing this production. Pelletier filled me in by showing me the playwright Joshua Conkel’s notes in the beginning of the script. To summarize: “Don’t be a pussy. BE BOLD.” Honestly, I cannot think of any better stage directions or advice, and Heart and Dagger Productions truly stepped up to the plate on this production. With not one but two cross-dressed actors, pre-pubescent nudity (okay, not really, the scene is hilarious), a cameo by the Grim Reaper, and more, MilkMilkLemonade kept me awake, interested and engaged in a thought-provoking story. This is not a show for the family, but if you like your theatre black and your actors hot, MilkMilkLemonade is sure to provide the perfect summer treat.
The set was creatively done in the small, but adaptable Factory Theatre Black Box with assistance from an impressive lighting design by Michael Underhill. I know that an audience member should never notice individual technical elements of a production, but the variety of lighting used for dream sequences, scene changes and alternative realities was quite stunning. The costumes by Pelletier and Zalaski were spot-on, especially the giant chicken suit and anything worn by Elise Weiner Wulff as the Lady in the Leotard. Wulff set the tone for the production perfectly with her introduction running commentary, and her adaptability in playing multiple secondary characters was hilarious. I would love to see Wulff in a more character-driven role in the future, she has a dynamic personality onstage.
The only character I found underwhelming was Zalaski’s Linda; I am not sure if the giant chicken suit was enough for the eye when paired with Zalaski’s subtle performance, and I felt drawn to other actors whenever she was onstage. I was also underwhelmed by her stand-up comedy skit, but I blame a rather “dead” audience on that one; I would have liked to see this scene on a more rowdy night. Pelletier’s relationship with Zalaski was moving, but his real highlights were with Garber.
As a friend of mine likes to point out, I have a “gender thing”, and this production really made me think about the importance, or lack thereof, of gender in our society as two “boys” fell in love. With a convincing turn by Garber as Elliot, you wondered how different it really was for two boys or a boy and a girl to be romantically intimate.
Regardless, Pelletier and Garber turned up the heat in every scene they shared with each other. (Note: that was a metaphorical use of the word “heat”, but seriously, The Factory Theatre is an unforgiving space in the summer- dress loosely and take advantage of any intermissions by going outside.) While I am always critical of actors who attempt to play outside of their “age range,” Pelletier and Garber were committed and consistent, if not a little campy, in their portrayals of the troubled pre-teens. Equally hilarious and committed was DiLoreto; his Nanna was bold, brash and ballsy, though I lost some the punch lines due to a thick emphysemic voice.
Heart and Dagger Productions is one company to keep your eyes on for next season. They’re presenting an original piece written by Pelletier, choreographed by Wulff, and directed by DiLoreto in early August that is sure to be a hit, given the strong collaborative talents involved. This company creates abstract theatre that is pleasing to the eye, the ear and the mind. MilkMilkLemonade was not a family-friendly show, but the company inspires audiences with vivid performance and commitment to style. These valuable traits are dearly needed in Boston fringe theatre, so I hope audiences will continue to take chances on new, growing companies like Heart and Dagger Productions.