Joshua Conkel’s MilkMilkLemonade is a gay fantasia set on a chicken farm in the middle of middle America.
The hero is a gentle, 11-year-old boy called Emory whose best friend is a giant, sad chicken. His would-be friend is a fire-starting bully who likes playing ‘house’ with him. Of course there has to be an Aunt Em and in this case she’s a bible-thumping, cancer-ridden harridan. It’s a boisterous coming-of-age tale with lots of dancing but beneath all the campiness and kid’s theatre aesthetic, Conkel, a self-described navy brat from Kentucky, manages to explore some darker themes.
The play is about growing up queer in a dangerous place. The beautiful thing about Emory is that he just allows himself to be, while those around him deny who they really are.There is a risk of pushing all the funny stuff to the foreground – the clever one-liners, outrageous plot twists – and missing Conkel’s more sober intention, which is to remind us there are kids living in terror because they are in an environment where it is not safe to come out. I think, for the most part, Melita Rowston’s playful production manages to get the balance right.
The cast is terrific. Mark Dessaix brings both an unflagging energy and physical grace to the role of Emory. He makes you fall in love with the small town boy who defiantly choreographs ribbon dances in his barn. Emory is also something of a chook whisperer and Sarah Easterman, as Linda, plays off Dessaix nicely as the oversized Russian chicken with her own dreams of making it as a comedian. Keiren Foster as Emory’s tough school mate Elliot offers a poignant portrayal of a young boy desperately trying to hide his sexual orientation and Pete Netell is hilarious in drag as mad, bad Nanna. Leah Donovan gets to shine in several roles and delivers a show-stopping if slightly insane version of Charlene’s ‘I’ve Never Been To Me’.
Angela Blake’s energetic choreography is a major highlight and the set design by Antoinette Barbouttis puts a big smile on your face the moment you enter the theatre.
MilkMilkLemonade, New Theatre, Newtown. Until March 2. Bookings: www.newtheatre.org.au or 1300 347 205.