Middle America Syndrome
SYDNEY: A highly theatrical absurdist offering, MilkMilkLemonade is a darkly comedic exploration of being gay in Middle America, writes Garrett Bithell.
Living on a farm with only his chain-smoking Nanna and a depressed chicken about to be processed for company, Emory is an effeminate, ribbon-stick-dance choreographing, head-in-the-clouds 11-year-old boy. His Nanna wishes he would be more like Elliot, the aggressive, angry boy down the road with a penchant for setting things on fire. But little does Nanna know that Emory and Elliot have a special relationship, and have been interfering with each other in the barn...
Such is the premise of Joshua Conkel’s hilarious play MilkMilkLemonade, which is getting a production at the New Theatre as part of the Mardi Gras Festival, directed by Melita Rowston, with Mark Dessaix – who was last seen in The Temperamentals and The Bugalugs Bum Thief – playing Emory and Kieran Foster playing Elliot.
“Let me start by saying I, Mark James Dessaix, am not a dancer. I am not a ribbon gymnast. However, it has been the one of the most thrilling ‘OMG’ challenges of my acting career,” Dessaix tells SX. “I was taught the routine just before New Year’s by our choreographer, Angela Blake. She showed me, my jaw dropped, I may have let out a bit of nervous wee, then I got stuck into it. It’s been love-hate, but we have declared a truce and become good working companions.”
But behind the comedic, absurdist aspects of Conkel’s text is a poignant examination of gender, sexuality and intolerance – specifically an exploration of being gay in Middle America. “Emory is dealing with a world that wants him to be anything other than who he is and who he wants to be,” Dessaix says. “He knows he is different, but I don’t think he makes his burgeoning sexuality the centrepiece of this emerging self-awareness. He just is different, and he finds it exasperating that this ignites so much anger and fear in those around him.”
For Dessaix, who grew up on the Northern Beaches, Emory’s experience is a familiar one. “I think as children, when we start to display strong elements of not being ‘like the others’, it’s the parents and older members of society who try and stamp that out – usually out of care so as not to let us be shunned our outcast or hurt by our peers,” Dessaix muses. “I grew up on the northern beaches of Sydney, and I can honestly say being a small-framed, girlish boy who did drama and spoke softly, didn’t work in my immediate favour in terms of being treated kindly. I wasn’t a boys’ boy. I didn’t surf or play footy or finger girls whilst pissed at underage parties. I was different and the northern beaches was (and to a degree still is) anathema to being an individual.”
[Image] Mark Dessaix (left) and Kieran Foster in MilkMilkLemonade. Photo: Bob Seary
New Theatre (542 King Street, Newtown), February 5 – March 2. Tickets through www.newtheatre.org.au.