Pride and Prejudice: Milk Like Sugar at the La Jolla Playhouse
(Originally published in the San Diego Reader November 22, 2011.)
Playwright Kirsten Greenidge does not use the restroom during intermission when her plays are performed. “I get so wary about what I’m going to overhear,” she admits. “You have no voice in that situation. You can’t pick a fight in the restroom.”
This policy may have proven sound during the recent run of her controversial play Milk Like Sugar, at the La Jolla Playhouse from late August through September 25.
“During previews, before the play even opened,” Greenidge says, “[the Playhouse] started getting emails from people who were concerned about stereotypes and black characters.”
In 2008, the La Jolla Playhouse and Theater Masters in Aspen, Colorado, co-commissioned Greenidge to write a play. Together, the two institutions sent her to the Aspen Ideas Festival, where she participated in a week of seminars to generate ideas for the play. From 2009 to 2011, Greenidge traveled back and forth between Boston (where she resides) and New York to workshop the play, discussing choices she’d made, tweaking scenes, and developing characters, all of whom are, like herself, black.
In late August of this year, Milk Like Sugar premiered onstage at La Jolla Playhouse.
The advert posted on the Playhouse website reads, “Like all teenagers, 16-year-old Annie and her friends crave the hottest designer phones, handbags and fashion. But their prospects for the good life seem limited in the dead-end town they call home. When the girls decide to create their own future by entering into a pregnancy pact, Annie is confronted with the challenge of choosing between the safety of the life she knows and the danger of the life she desires.”
Greenidge says she and the actors discussed the idea of how these young, black urban characters would be perceived by the Playhouse’s mostly white, older, affluent audience. And although Playhouse managing director Michael Rosenberg says complaints came from an ethnically diverse range of audience members, it became clear that some of the more vocal critics were from the black community.