BU Today

Arts & Entertainment

Huntington’s Milk Like Sugar Probes Fears, Dreams of Teen Girls

Play is one of two by CFA’s Kirsten Greenidge being produced in Boston


In Kirsten Greenidge’s drama Milk Like Sugar, Annie’s friends Margie and Talisha take her to get a tattoo for her 16th birthday. In the waiting room, the teenagers banter about the latest cell phones and Talisha’s mysterious new guy. But Margie is pregnant, and the talk turns to Coach diaper bags and Beyonce’s baby stroller. And they begin to consider an idea: they should all get pregnant.

“We all have babies, we could be like, like strong and fierce just like that. Just like lions,” says Annie.

The idea of joining her friends in a pregnancy pact poses tough questions Annie must confront: what does she really want? And what choices are really open to her? Those questions drive Milk Like Sugar, the Huntington Theatre Company’s current production, playing at the Boston Center for the Arts Calderwood Pavilion through February 27.

It is one of two plays by Greenidge, a College of Fine Arts assistant professor of playwriting and theater arts, being staged in Boston this month. The other, Baltimore, presented by the Boston Center for American Performance, the professional extension of CFA’s School of Theatre, and the New Repertory Theatre, begins next week at the BU Theatre Lane-Comley Studio 210. Like Milk Like Sugar, Baltimore tackles another hot-button issue: race relations on a college campus. But Greenidge is quick to note that neither are “issue plays” that offer didactic solutions. “I’ve written plays like that, and even my own make me shudder when I look back at them,” she says.

 Kirsten Greenidge, a CFA assistant professor of playwriting and theater arts, has two plays being produced simultaneously in Boston. Photo by Simon Simard

Kirsten Greenidge, a CFA assistant professor of playwriting and theater arts, has two plays being produced simultaneously in Boston. Photo by Simon Simard

Milk Like Sugar debuted at La Jolla Playhouse in Pasadena in 2011, and later transferred to off Broadway, winning an Obie Award for its depiction of a teen pregnancy pact that masks a deeper need for sustenance. Greenidge grew up in the Boston area, and the play was inspired in part by a 2008 story that several teenage girls in Gloucester had reportedly become pregnant. Published reports of a pregnancy pact were eventually revealed to be mostly hype. But Greenidge says she’d been mulling the idea since watching an episode about teen pregnancy on the Sally Jessy Raphael Show.

“If young girls are happy to be pregnant, then that’s a different story,” she says. “It isn’t about access to birth control, it isn’t about not knowing about your body. It’s about making that choice, and not thinking you have other choices open to you.”

In the course of the play, Annie (Jasmine Carmichael), Talisha (Shazi Raja), and Margie (Carolina Sanchez) argue, laugh, and try to one-up each other like normal teenagers. But their lives are grounded in poverty, and Annie is trying to figure out what life holds for her, influenced and pressured by her friends, as well as by a Christian classmate, Keera (Shanae Burch), and her college-bound suitor, Malik (Marc Pierre). Her single mother, forced by lack of opportunities into a dead-end job, is unable to offer much help.

“I like theater where people with all their beauties and flaws are laid bare, and for these teenagers, it’s about accepting and understanding the validity of their dreams and fears,” says director M. Bevin O’Gara (CFA’04). “My objective is to draw us into their world, to love them, and hopefully see what they see.”

For Greenidge, the Huntington production represents a homecoming. The former Huntington Playwriting Fellow had her drama Luck of the Irish produced by the company in 2011. But her introduction to the Huntington came years before, when her seventh grade class saw Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, by August Wilson (Hon.’96), on a field trip to the theater.

“It was the first time I saw black people in a play that wasn’t a musical, that told stories about African American life,” she says. “That was really powerful to me. I took that to heart.”

Greenidge sat in on early rehearsals of Milk Like Sugar, tweaking it so that cultural references were up-to-date, excising references to Facebook and flip phones. But because Baltimore is a new play, she’s continuing to make major revisions. Directed by Elaine Vaan Hogue (CFA’97), a CFA assistant professor of acting and directing and head of theater arts, Baltimore was commissioned by the Big Ten Theatre Consortium New Play Initiative to “address the underrepresentation of women in theatre and provide substantial female roles particularly suitable for college-age actors.”

The author says the play, about a resident advisor for a group of freshmen who is forced to deal with a racially charged incident, was inspired by a series of such events at the University of Iowa when she was a graduate student there years ago. But she says that students and faculty on many campuses have noted similarities between Baltimore and their own experiences.

College is also a place where people of different backgrounds—racial, socioeconomic—often live and work closely together in ways that are relatively rare in America, Greenidge notes.

“When you go away to college, this can often be the case for the first and sometimes only time in our lives,” she says, “which made a college setting ideal for what I wanted to explore in the play.”

In the trailer above, view scenes from the Huntington Theatre Company’s current production, Kirsten Greenidge’s Milk Like Sugar, running at the Calderwood Pavilion through February 27. Courtesy of the Huntington Theatre Company

The Huntington Theatre Company production of Milk Like Sugar is at the Roberts Studio Theatre in the Boston Center for the Arts Calderwood Pavilion, 527 Tremont St., Boston, through February 27. Tickets may be purchased online, by phone at 617-266-0800, or in person at the BU Theatre box office, 264 Huntington Ave., or the BCA box office. Patrons 35 and younger may purchase $30 tickets (ID required) for any production, and there is a $5 discount for seniors. Military personnel can purchase tickets for $20 with promo code MILITARY, and student tickets are available for $20. Members of the BU community get $10 off (ID required). Call 617-266-0800 for more information. Follow the Huntington Theatre Company on Twitter at @huntington.

The Boston Center for American Performance and New Repertory Theatre production of Baltimore runs February 10 to 28 at the BU Theatre Lane-Comley Studio 210. Tickets are $30, $20 for students and $25 for seniors, and may be purchased here or by calling 617-933-8600.

+ Comments
Joel Brown, writer, BU Today at Boston University
Joel Brown

Joel Brown can be reached at jbnbpt@bu.edu.

Post Your Comment

(never shown)