Playwright: music by Kurt Weill,lyrics by Bertolt Brecht et al.,book Playwright: Nambi E. Kelley. At: MPAACT at Victory Gardens. Greenhouse, 2257 N. Lincoln. Phone: 773-872-3000; $19.50-$22.50. Through: Nov. 11
It's certainly honorable that playwright/actress Nambi E. Kelley would want to write a play drawing from her own brief experiences growing up during the 1980s in trying conditions in former Chicago housing projects like the Robert Taylor Homes or the Ida B. Wells Homes.
So I'm ashamed to admit that I wasn't really moved by Kelley's MiLK, a revised revival presented by MPAACT ( Ma'at Production Association of Afrikan Centered Theater ) which is producing a season of revivals at the Victory Gardens Greenhouse.
My reluctance with MiLK had nothing to do with the fine performances under the watch of veteran director Chuck Smith, but more with the half-hearted script conventions and sometimes confusing dramatic structure Kelley attaches to the play.
MiLK tells the story of Baby ( Caren Blackmore ) , whom we first see in the womb being watched over by Dawn Pryor as her Womanclown ( a sort of inner-self double or emotional conscious ) . Both Baby and Womanclown interchange lines as one person when Baby is a kid, but later they spar against each other once Baby starts defiantly growing older and suffering a string of degradations. When the pain gets to be too much, Womanclown offers Baby some mystical milk ( from a chug container not introduced until the mid 1990s ) that has some sort of healing effect ( I'm not sure exactly how or why, but it does ) .
Where Kelley does much better with her scripting is in the straightforward and entertaining dialogue she depicts of Baby and her two friends. Watching Ebony Wimbs' and Ashlee Olivia Jones' fine performances as trash-talking kids playing double-dutch jump rope was extremely entertaining, making you wish that there was more interaction with Baby's friends throughout the play.
There are also other characters, though Kelley doesn't fully flesh them out. Anthony Peeples has fun playing the nerdy kid Lee, who grows up to be fine-looking. Earl Alphonso Fox does what he has to as the male oppressor, Mr. Conn ( though we don't really have to see a certain portion of Fox during the play's unnerving rape scene ) . Corey Cantrell looks a tad too young to be playing Uncle Five-O, especially when he gets saddled with the disturbing home abortion scene.
What Kelley presents in MiLK shows she's a playwright with potential, but the play is structured in such a haphazard way with odd character motivations that it doesn't really allow you to take it close to your heart. I'm sure the people who grew up amid so many kinds of adversity in public housing have many great tales to share, but I doubt that MiLK does full justice to those stories of pain and survival.