Much like Jack and the Beanstalk, Joshua Conkel’s MilkMilkLemonade centers on a boy, Emory, whose best friend is a farm animal: in this case, a chicken named Linda. With her, he can rehearse dance routines and share his dreams of becoming famous. This friendship also provides him with a respite from his overbearing Nanna, who’s intent on making him a “real man,” and from bully Elliot, who forces—sort of—Emory to play a very grown-up version of “house” in the barn. It’s too bad that Emory also has to figure out how to keep Linda from winding up in the chicken processor.
Conkel’s very adult kiddie play is thoughtfully enhanced not only by a particularly shrewd soundtrack but also by director Isaac Butler’s cross-gender casting of Nanna and Elliot (a choice that beautifully underscores the play’s themes of sexual identity). MilkMilkLemonade also benefits from a winning performance from Andy Phelan as Emory. But a surfeit of cutesy gimmickry—such as the performance artist–like narrator who translates chicken clucks and plays the evil twin in Elliot’s leg—is cloying and, ultimately, undoes this potentially incisive and entertaining glimpse into how some gay kids come of age in America’s heartland.