By Connie E, news correspondent
For playwright Kirsten Greenidge, milk that tastes like sugar reveals the issues of teenage pregnancy and inequality.
The play “Milk Like Sugar,” directed by M. Bevin O’Gara and presented by Huntington Theatre Company, revolves around two adolescent girls who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. The main character, Annie, played by Jasmine Carmichael, forms a “pregnancy pact” with her two best friends out of the longing for a family but later doubts this decision as she feels the stirrings of ambition for college and a job.
The title “Milk Like Sugar” comes from a type of powdered milk that Annie’s mother keeps on the shelf. However, the girl craves nutrition and substance rather than sickeningly sweet milk.
Talisha, played by Shazi Raja, Annie’s best friend, is aggressive, outspoken and unafraid of standing up for her friends.
“[Playing the role of Talisha] really put things into perspective for me and helped me to better understand the less fortunate,” Raja said. “I’m excited to play this role because Talisha is very similar to me in the sense that I’m also exuberant, loud and stand up for my friends wholeheartedly.”
Witnessing a spike in teenage pregnancy rates among students at Gloucester High School in 2008, Greenidge started thinking about the connections between unequal distribution of education opportunity and the limited choices young girls have, according to an interview printed in the playbill.
“I did start to have trouble comprehending Talisha in the rehearsing process because some of the things that she had to deal with, such as an abusive relationship or a family member, I’ve never had to deal with,” Shazi said. “What really helped me was to understand where these girls were coming from and to understand the reason why without judging.”
Audience member Tiara Temple, who grew up in Detroit, said she has family members who had the same struggle. Yet she believes that it’s personal mentality that allows one to stay strong.
“No matter where we come from, we all want love,” Temple said. “We all have different journeys, so our definitions of love come from different places. I think that in order for the world to come together as a whole, we have to acknowledge and embrace that with each other.”
According to Patti Hartigan from the Boston Globe, the play asks questions about how to empower young women who are not born into privilege and who aren’t given an easy ride to college and white-collar careers.
“It’s not necessarily material things that are driving [Annie and Talisha]; it’s really the desire for love. Beneath it all, they are saying, ‘I deserve the respect, love and to be part of something’,” O’Gara said in an interview with Greenidge printed in the playbill.
Temple said she views live theater as an excellent way to show this facet of the society.
“It is about the text, versus in Hollywood, where you see a lot of spectacle,” Temple said. “The message is real when you are in a theater atmosphere.”
The play finishes with a scene where Annie looks at the sky from a telescope, symbolizing her desire to break out from her social status and strive for a life that is in her control.
“It’s a tragic story, but it leaves people with hope,” Temple said.
“Milk Like Sugar” will run until Feb. 27 at the Calderwood Pavilion, Boston Center for the Arts.
Photo courtesy T. Charles Erickson.