Milk Like Sugar at ArtsWest review

Kirsten Greenidge’s award-winning coming-of-age story, Milk Like Sugar, is a moving examination of class, race, and gender through the life of a teenage girl. With a stellar cast and beautiful design, Malika Oyetimein’s directorial debut for ArtsWest is a production you won’t want to miss.

Milk Like Sugar is the story of three young women of color living in the inner city. On Annie’s sixteenth birthday, she and her friends make a pact to get pregnant and have babies together as soon as possible. They see this as an easy path to unconditional love and baby shower swag, but things quickly get more complicated. Annie wants to stand by her friends, but sees possible roads to a better future in ambitious valedictorian Malik and earnest evangelical Keera. Greenidge’s nuanced characters get more interesting and feel more human with every new revelation. The poetic yet realistic dialogue shines a light on the beauty of the human spirit in Milk Like Sugar’s bleak setting. The engaging characters and skillful writing guide the audience as we explore the intersection of class, race, and gender.

Malika Oyetimein brings her strength as a director and her passion for telling the historically untold stories of people of color to ArtsWest for the first time with Milk Like Sugar. If you saw her recent productions of BOOTYCANDY for Intiman, or Fucking A and Force Continuum at the University of Washington, you already know that Oyetimein is a director to watch. Milk Like Sugar continues her hot streak. The only directorial decision I really questioned here was the use of dance transitions that often felt like SparkNotes versions of the previous scene’s emotions, but that could just be a matter of personal preference.

Milk Like Sugar’s strong ensemble cast skillfully embodies complex characters, and navigates both the plays heavy drama and moments of humor. Allyson Lee Brown especially stands out as Annie, our protagonist. She brings youthful innocence and strength of spirit of the role, and elevates it with the charisma of a rising star. Jay O’Leary is another standout as Talisha, playing the street-smart sugar baby teenager with spot-on cruelty and vulnerability. On the other side of the character spectrum, Lindsay Zae Summers’s socially awkward, devoutly Christian Keera will both make you laugh and break your heart. But of the supporting cast, Marlette Buchannan is the real scene stealer as Annie’s mother, Myrna. She’s bitter, uneducated, self-obsessed, and gripping whenever she’s on stage.

The show also features beautiful and interesting design work. Sound designer Stephon Dorsey’s music choices and Alyssa Millione’s lighting do their part in fleshing out the world of the play, and supporting its youthful energy. Kelsey Rogers’s costume design is a definite highlight of the show for me, especially Marshie and Talisha’s Instagram-ready outfits, and Myrna and Malik’s spot-on looks. Jenny Littlefield’s set never overwhelms, but is basically another character in the show, especially the giant, early-‘00s-cool mural on the tattoo parlor wall.

ArtsWest’s production of Milk Like Sugar is a moving, insightful piece of theatre. It features great performances and design, provides thought-provoking social commentary, and is helmed by one of Seattle’s rising star directors. I highly recommend this show to anyone interested in experiencing a high-quality piece of drama.

Milk Like Sugar by Kirsten Greenidge. ArtsWest Playhouse and Gallery, 4711 California Ave SW, West Seattle, 98116.  Thurs-Sat 7:30 p.m., Sun 3:00 p.m., March 2-25. Tickets and more info: www.artswest.org or 206-938-0339.

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