In MilkMilkLemonade, neither Joshua Conkel's writing nor Isaac Butler's direction is subtle--and that's a good thing, because the centrally sincere moment is that we ought not to have to hide ourselves. Thanks to some clever costuming from Sydney Maresca, Emory (Andy Phelan) and Elliot (Jess Barbagallo) are able to be at their nakedest, physically and emotionally, when Emory says "To me, I'm not acting like a girl. I'm just acting like myself. So if this is how girls act, then I like it." For those disgruntled few who can't quite stomach that concept, Lady in a Leotard (the outstanding Nikole Beckwith) underscores the sentiment in a comic way: with a mini-guitar.
Everything--from Jason Simms's childish flat of a barn (complete with flaps that show the progression of the sun) to the hand-print chickens that make up Nanna (Michael Cyril Creighton)'s farm, to the fact that Lady doubles as Elliot's evil parasitic twin or even that Emory and Elliot are only in fifth grade (which explains their vivid dream sequences and fragile emotions)--yes, everything is designed to subvert our ideas of "normalcy" so that we can honestly listen, without attaching labels. For instance: "Do any of yous know how hard it is to get up here and take a chance on something? To be your authentic self in front of God and America and all you carnivores?" Honest words, even if they're spoken by Emory's best friend, Linda (Jennifer Harder), a giant chicken who dreams of doing stand-up like Andrew Dice Clay.
In all honesty, things should be this obvious: you act the way you feel, and shame on all the Nannas out there who quote Leviticus to their children and burn their dolls and scowl at their dancing and their dreams, determined that they play the role of "boy," no matter what. So Butler emphasizes Conkel's writing by casting men to play the female (or would-be female) parts and women to play the men, demonstrating that if it's just a matter of "playing" a role, anyone can do it. (Which is not to say that anyone could play these roles: for instance Barbagallo is quite convincing--and a little terrifying--as a bully with some serious transference issues.) He also neatly slides between theatrical styles (as in last year's The Honest-to-God True Story of the Atheist), which lets him poke fun at Tennessee Williams-like stereotypes and break into 30s dance-breaks set to "Anything Goes," which, if anything, should be truer now than it was then.
MilkMilkLemonade isn't subtle, no. But it is clever. In fact, it's so cleverly done that some of the most sorrowful lines--Elliot rolling to one side, dismissing the sexuality he knows he cannot bring up at his own home: "You can get used to anything"--won't even hit you until you one day turn 'round the corner and see the uglier, "grown-up" America where hate is made.