On Directing “MilkMilkLemonade”

I can hardly believe how long it has been since I posted something of consequence on Drama, Daily.  Yikes!  There have, however, been extenuating circumstances–I’ve been mentally and physically consumed with casting and directing Joshua Conkel’s gem of a play, MilkMilkLemonade, for its Florida premiere NEXT WEEK (Double yikes!!) at Empire Stage in Fort Lauderdale.

I haven’t posted much behind-the-scenes info here about the process of putting up MML, so I thought I’d take some time today to finally do that.  Given my role in the rehearsal process, a post on directing the show seems appropriate…

For those of you unfamiliar with this work, it’s a play in which adults playfully and poignantly embody a child’s world.  A narrator with stage-fright; Emory, an effeminate 5th grader; Nanna, Emory’s Bible-beating grandmother; Linda, Emory’s best friend; and Elliot, a homophobic kid bully who lives next door, take us through an action-packed day on Nanna’s chicken farm.

The more I’ve read and reread Conkel’s play and heard it brought to life by our terrific cast the more it has enthralled me: time and closeness to the script have deepened rather than dulled my appreciation of it.  And this is because, for a shorter play, it is smart (allusions abound) and strikingly complex.  Its style and tone range from refreshingly hilarious to deadly serious. And it can not be neatly reduced to a single genre.  In directing it, I have come to see it as both a satire and a tragicomedy woven together by several variety show-like interludes.

MilkMilkLemonade‘s generic complexity is, at once, one of its greatest virtues and its greatest challenges for director and actor alike.  The play begs to be funny all the time, even in some of its tenderest moments.  And this has been one of the particular challenges for me–working to keep some of the play’s softer, more touching moments from being undercut by the foley accents of an ever-present narrator or the stage-crossings of a giant chicken and a cancer-ridden, chain smoking Nanna.

MilkMilkLemonade contains comic scenes, some more serious scenes, realistic scenes, dreamy surreal scenes, a  play-within-a play scene, as well as scenes with singing, dancing, and stand-up comedy.  Because of the play’s generic range, it is the blocking and transitioning between the different, and sometimes disparate, scenes, rather than the blocking within scenes, that proves more demanding.  Staging a straight-forward kitchen-sink drama would feel like a vacation after grappling with Josh’s play, but having said this, I’d hands down rather be directing this play or another in this vein because it allows for immense directorial creativity and experimentation.  Night after night, I have gone into rehearsals excited by the staging possibilities and left struck by the discoveries that have emerged during the directing process.

If you’re in South Florida, come check out the show!  Tickets can be purchased at the door or online at SmartTix.

Playwright Joshua Conkel will be attending the Saturday, June 5th performance, and there will be a post-show meet and greet party with pizza provided Humpy’s and other refreshments compliments of Georgie’s Alibi.   You would be reMISS to MISS THIS!  So don’t!

What are some of your own best/worst directing moments? Have plays of certain genres? periods? etc.  proved easier or harder to direct than others?

Come on, share…

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