Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Astoria Performing Arts Company Brings a Challenging New Work to Astoria

By Georgina Young-Ellis

Imagine an eleven-year-old gay farm boy with a talking chicken for a best friend; he’s having a relationship with the bully down the road, and being raised by a grandmother who’s desperately trying to undo his effeminate ways. This is all a part of Astoria Performing Arts Center’s (APAC) new production, MilkMilkLemonade, “a bitter, hip, edgy, satirical, very funny and moving play about a person growing up in the wrong home,” says APAC Executive Director Taryn Sacramone (until her recent marriage, Taryn Drongowski).  Ms. Sacramone stressed that it is a play for adults, performed entirely by adults, with mature content; no one under sixteen will be admitted. She went on to explain that, though not at all autobiographical, the story came out of playwright Joshua Conkel’s nightmares. The set is “surreal,” as Ms. Sacramone describes it, “dreamlike and non-realistic;” a reflection of the “imaginative and fantastical” story.

When asked why the play was chosen as the first show of their 2010/11season, she remarked, “APAC is a theater company that is growing artistically; we don’t want to limit the selections. We want to challenge ourselves and tell a broad range of stories. We asked ourselves, ‘can we do a small, intimate, hip play along these lines?’”

MilkMilkLemonade was done in 2009 for a nine performance run at the forty five-seat UNDER St. Mark’s Theater. Ms. Sacramone stated that so many people wanted to see it at the time, audiences were turned away. She added that it got great reviews, and was named best Off Off Broadway Play by NYPress. APAC’s Artistic Director Tom Wojtunik was drawn to it, partly, she said, because he didn’t get to see it at UNDER St. Mark’s either. “The great thing about theater,” she remarked, “and the tough thing about it, is that it’s a moment in time. You either get to see a production or you don’t.” For those who didn’t see it, APAC is bringing back the original cast, including Jennifer Harder, 2010 Innovative Theater Award Winner for Best Supporting Actress for MilkMilkLemonade, as well as many of the original designers.

Other than the run at UNDER St. Mark’s and subsequent productions that “caught fire” around the country, the Executive Director stated that the play is considered a new work, stressing that new works are exactly what APAC wants to do more of.  “Part of the appeal of doing new works is the relationship the company gets to have with the playwright,” she stated. “With a revival, you don’t get that.”

Mr. Wojtunik also had something to say about his choice of MilkMilkLemonade. He said that he wanted to give audiences a new opportunity to see it, especially as it’s being directed by José Zayas, the first gay director the play has ever had. Equally, he remarked, since APAC’s space at the Good Shepherd United Methodist Church on Crescent and 30th Road is so ample, it gives the designers, “a chance to dream bigger and to prove the play can be done on a bigger scale.” “It’s not just a play for the East Village,” he added. Though Wojtunik has directed APAC’s last few main stage productions, he opted not to direct MilkMilkLemonade, stating, “I want to do the musical this year, but the intention was not for me to direct every main stage [piece]. It’s healthier for the organization to have other directors, bring in new people. Also, if I’m not directing, I can help produce it.”  About Zayas he remarked, “José is a very exciting and talented up and coming director. He is a 2009-11 recipient of the NEA/TCG Career Development Program for Directors.”

Finally, Mr. Wojtunik commented on the timeliness of the piece. “Something interesting has happened since the play first ran. It’s more relevant now. It’s become at the forefront of the news in a sad way and the play addresses that.” At the same time, he remarked, “It’s frustrating: is it that suicides [among gay youth] are increasing or are we just paying more attention now? It’s something that the playwright is passionate about.” He concluded, “What’s inspiring is that the main character, Emory, still has so much hope. Even though he experiences bullying, he still has hope.”

MilkMilkLemonade opens October 28th and runs through November 13th, Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm and Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm. For tickets go to or call 212-352-3101.