It's no secret that everything is not what it seems. But sometimes, we need a reminder. Take the rude children's ditty "Milk, Milk, Lemonade," in which the kids aren't really chanting about beverages. They're commenting about the fluids that emanate from, eww, girls.
A wacky play bearing the same name, MilkMilkLemonade by Joshua Conkel, is now on the boards at Convergence-Continuum. And while it has aspirations of exploring how many of us are not what we seem, it falls flat due to a significant lack of performance and directorial imagination.
Let's face it: When a big, gray, chicken-processing machine is the funniest entity onstage, that's not a good sign. There are a lot of chicken-centric jokes in this determinedly screwball script, set on a farm, but the Con-Con production is not exactly poultry in motion.
This is because the five actors, under the aimless direction of Cory Molner, never fashion the memorable, risk-taking comic characters that the piece desperately needs.
It's all centered around an 11-year-old boy named Emory who is more interested in dressin' Barbies than sloppin' hogs. He is watched over by his terminally ill Nanna, who is vexed by her grandson's fascination with show tunes and ribbon dancing.
But Emory has a secret outlet — a friendship with a giant talking chicken named Linda who wants to be an insult comedian.
However, further complications arise in the form of Elliot (Brian Devers), a bully-boy from down the road who taunts Emory and slaps him around. Elliot, however, harbors a secret attraction for Emory, which comes out when they play their own version of "house" in the barn.
As Emory, the excellent (adult) actor Zac Hudak seems weirdly flat — even with all his eye-popping and arm waving. Playing a boy who we are told "acts like a girl," Hudak seems more enthusiastic than effeminate. If the idea was to avoid a stereotyped pansy characterization, the director succeeded to a fault.
Marcia Mandel, who plays Nanna, has the age and gender right, and she reads her lines with full attention to the emotion of the moment. What's missing is any flight of comedic inspiration that might turn this crotchety old hag into a source of hilarity, or scorn, or something.
Indeed, far too many of the play's lines are simply delivered as if this were an early run-through rehearsal. It is particularly evident with the Lady in a Leotard. Written as a free-form narrator/MC who also appears in multiple cameo roles, the playwright gives this person carte blanche to take chances and toy with the audience.
But Lisa Wiley never connects as this fractured narrator and is yawningly predictable in her other appearances. In one instance, she plays a parasitic twin growing out of Elliot's thigh, a juicy opportunity for some bizarre hijinks. Instead, Wiley merely snarls and grimaces. In another, she portrays a sociopathic arachnid as if she's performing "Itsy Bitsy Spider" for a third-grade class.
Although she's cordon bland for most of the show, Sarah Kunchik's be-feathered Linda sparks to life a bit when performing her Andrew Dice Clay standup routine.
Since Conkel is a reasonably clever writer, there are some laughs to be had in this 80-minute exercise. Hudak and Devers acting out a steamy, Southern-Gothic marital spat is one prime example. But as noted earlier, the funniest element in the show is the chicken-killing and -packaging contraption designed by Wes Shofner — featuring airborne feathers and flying Chick-fil-A bags.
Unfortunately, since the actors aren't as outrageous as they should be, Conkel's subtext about how we forge our identities and destinies falls flat. And the whole enterprise never approaches the sneaky impudence of the song alluded to in the title.