Review: ‘Milk Like Sugar’ but not so sweet

 From left: Nastassja Baset, Danielle Leneé and Melanie Lawrence in Simpatico Theatre Project's production of 'Milk Like Sugar.' (Photo courtesy of Kate Raines/Plate 3 Photography)

From left: Nastassja Baset, Danielle Leneé and Melanie Lawrence in Simpatico Theatre Project's production of 'Milk Like Sugar.' (Photo courtesy of Kate Raines/Plate 3 Photography)

Kirsten Greenidge’s “Milk Like Sugar,” in a bold staging from Simpatico Theatre Project on four small spaces on the top floor of the Adrienne Theatre, offers a frank look at three teenage inner-city girls. Essentially, it’s a portrait of no-way-out.

That’s what’s in store for these girls, it seems — lives without even dreams, except for one: having a baby. That’s what Annie (Nastassja Baset), just now 16, plans with her two best friends (Melanie Lawrence and Danielle Leneé). They’ll all be pregnant by a certain deadline and they’ll have their showers and their babies together. “We all get red roses and we all do these things!” one of them says in happy anticipation.

They pinky-swear, and Annie goes about getting a 16th-birthday tattoo and encouraging a guy (Brandon Pierce) to help with her goal. In the end, he’s not too happy about Annie “diggin’ at me like I’m some kinda grab bag at a kiddie party,” and besides, he’s bent on a ticket out of the hood, by way of college. Her pregnancy plan seems to be crumbling. What to do?  

Certainly not go to her mom (Kimberly S. Fairbanks), who’ll be too hung up on her own problems to listen or care. A new-found friend (Curtisha Starks) who talks of her joyful religion is a possibility at least for sympathizing. And there might be some comfort in getting another tattoo from a neighborhood artist (Walter DeShields). 

It’s naïve — and also presumptuous — to perceive Greenidge’s play as a summary of life among black girls in poor urban neighborhoods. Yet what’s undeniably real is her grasp of the stresses that these kids — and Annie’s mother — face minute-to-minute at the low end of the economic scale. “I don’t have a ticket,” Annie says, and she could be talking about college prospects, a future living wage, a moment together with her family, or her next meal. Her mother — arguably the most revealing character in “Milk Like Sugar” — is stuck in the cycle. She has had little opportunity in her life. Why, she demands, should her daughter expect any? 

Simpatico artistic director Allen Radway handles the story gracefully by giving separate stages to each of its four settings: a tattoo parlor, a high-school locker hall, a room in the house where Annie lives and a high-up place where the sky reveals its stars. Radway’s cast brings out the anger and the humor in their various plights — and the ultimate desperation rooted in the girls’ pregnancy plan. 

Plus, they handle Greenidge’s urban black-English dialogue skillfully – a script that has much to tell us, and makes me want to see more of Greenidge’s work.

“Milk Like Sugar,” produced by Simpatico Theatre Project, runs through March 8 at the Adrienne, on Sansom Street between 20th and 21st Streets.

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