By Diana Saenger
Inspired by a story in Time magazine about a group of girls who make a pact to become pregnant at the same time, “Milk Like Sugar” runs through Sept. 25 at La Jolla Playhouse. Playwright Kirsten Greenidge’s story exploring the truth behind the girls’ actions struggled in its telling during the first act. Audience members commented that they weren’t able to understand the dialogue due to its rapid-fire delivery and/or they were unfamiliar with the colloquiums spoken. But those who stayed through the slower-paced second act, seemed tuned into the unfolding drama.
And though moments of “Milk Like Sugar” might feel artificial in some spots, it has heart and humor, and its messages are grounded in genuine import and relevance.
A snappy opening features three African-American teens in a tattoo parlor where Annie (Angela Lewis) is acting fidgety and uncertain about the tattoo she’s about to put on her belly. Talisha (Cherise Boothe), who wants to be called “T,” dances about like she has ants in her pants. She’s getting text messages that she blabs about so quickly that it’s difficult to understand what she’s saying. Margie (Nikiya Mathis), pregnant and naïve, is only fixated on her world and the color pink.
While the girls discuss what kind of guy they want, based on which cell phone he has, the idea pops up that Annie and T should get pregnant, too, so the trio can share in their bliss together. Annie agrees, but with only slightly more enthusiasm than she has for wanting a tattoo.
While waiting for tattoo artist Antwoine (LeRoy McClain) to make his appearance, the girls giggle and talk about their idea. Annie quickly establishes she has a little more going for herself than wanting to register with her friends at a baby store or discuss why she wants a ladybug tattoo. In everything that T says, Annie corrects her mispronunciations. “A nitial or initial?” Annie asks.
After getting Annie’s tattoo, the girls plan for her to unite with Malik (J. Mallory-McCree). He shows initial attraction, but his idea to ease into a relationship isn’t want Annie has in mind.
Tony Award winner Tonya Pinkins is excellent as Annie’s tough, single mom trying to keep her job. She’s somewhat out of touch with her daughter who longs for a family (no dad but two unseen brothers) to play games with and have family night. Annie is even thinking about college — far from her friends’ plan for the three of them to play mommy together — or her mother’s hard line that college is not part of their world.
When Keera, a bright, Bible-minded girl comes into her life, Annie’s world goes from gray to slightly rosy. Keera stands up to T’s bullying and eventually teaches Annie to have her own thoughts, think outside the box, and go for what she really wants.
“Milk Like Sugar” has excellent performances and inventive set changes. Greenidge layered her play with some nice metaphors, including when Annie reveals the reason for the title while talking to Malik: “We supposed to be drinking real milk, ’stead we fed that powered kind that looks like sugar.”
If you go
Milk Like Sugar
7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Saturdays, Sundays; 7 p.m. Sundays to Sept. 25
Potiker Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse