Play DC: Milk Like Sugar @ Atlas
Mosaic Theater continues to churn out thought provoking work. In Milk Like Sugar, playwright Kristen Greenidge examines teen pregnancy and poverty in an inner-city community. Three high school friends, on the fragile precipice between girlhood and adulthood, make a collective pact to become pregnant. Since lofty goals like going to college and getting out of the neighborhood seem out of reach and abstract, the promise of comfort, companionship, and designer diaper bags make the idea of having babies appealing to the girls.
Margie (Ghislaine Dwarka) is already pregnant and Talisha (Renee Elizabeth Wilson) is in a abusive relationship with an older man. However, the story centers on Annie (Kashayna Johnson), a virgin who wavers in the decision to go along with the pact. Annie has just turned 16, and the plot follows her as she wrestles with the possibilities of what path to take. Her two best friends threaten to abandon her if she breaks her promise to get pregnant, but there are other people in her life who she seeks advice from too.
She gets pulled in one direction by a college bound older boy, Malik (Vaughn Ryan Midder) who admires her intelligence and encourages her to reach for a better life than her friends and family. Annie also befriends an odd but charming and intelligent girl, Keera (Tyasia Velines), who is deeply involved with her church and uninterested in material things. Keera spins a tale of her loving home and family that makes Annie long to have what she has. However, in yet another blow to her hopes and dreams, Annie discovers that Keera is actually homeless and her parents are absent. Annie’s unstable and self-absorbed mother (Deidra LaWan Starnes), tells Annie she is no better than her and deserves no more in life. Annie’s mother has been nearly broken by the difficulties of her life, and though Annie looks on her with pity and disgust, also fears that her future may be just the same.
The play taps into the self-loathing and insecurity that many people feel when they see that their loved ones may surpass leave them, even if it means they will be better off. The fear of being alone is a major theme in Milk Like Sugar, and it’s difficult not to relate to each character in some way- even when they act selfishly. Ultimately, Annie must decide whether she will go against all she has ever known and the people she loves by setting out on her own in search of a better life that’s hard to imagine, or honor the pact.
There’s no denying that Milk Like Sugar is powerful and brilliantly acted by the cast, but disappointingly does little to disrupt negative stereotypes of teen girls. When choosing fathers for their babies, the model of cell phone he has is the biggest factor. The friendship between the girls is fleeting. The only character who seems to have his life somewhat together is one of only two male characters, Malik, who rejects Annie’s advances and goes on to college. There also are a few times Milk Like Sugar seems out of touch. For example, Annie describes going to “rainbow parties,” which have been proven to be urban legends.
That said, it is exhilarating to see a play written, directed and mostly acted by amazingly talented women. Mosaic Theater Resident Director, Jennifer L. Nelson, does an admirable job. Also, Mosaic is extending their commitment be inclusive: Milk Like Sugar is their first play to use surtitles for deaf and hard of hearing audience members.