Conkel’s gleeful Bizarro World piece of children’s theater that’s not for children contains the following elements: a leotard-clad, percussion-playing narrator; a Nina Simone–soundtracked ribbon-dance routine; trysts between sexually active gay 11-year-olds; and a giant talking chicken performing a shock-comic stand-up routine.
So no, kitchen-sink drama this ain’t—though for gloriously fey Emory and his playmate/paramour, gold-hearted neighborhood tough Elliot, “playing house” does turn into an extended Tennessee Williams–flavored parody of grand domestic boredom. Conkel’s candy-colored preteenage dream follows protogay Emory’s efforts to escape life on the farm with his emphysemic Nanna by ribbon-dancing his way to TV talent show Reach for the Stars. Emory has designs on one day living in Malltown, where he can have Cinnabon every day; for now, though, the best he can do is try to save his favorite chicken, Linda, from the processing machine.
The sheer daring in Conkel’s 2009 comedy is breathtaking, and Sanders and her cast match the writer’s audacity. As Emory, Farabee flounces with flair, while London-Shields butches it up admirably as Elliot; the deliciously droll Zinn is a delight as wheezing, conformity-endorsing Nanna, while Graber resembles a crazed Shelley Duvall as the weirdly tentative narrator. The wacky laughs temper the very real strain of seething anger and fear that can accompany growing up other. That’s the real trick of MilkMilkLemonade—kid stuff is always more adult than we’d like to admit.