Spine: ‘Milk Like Sugar’ at Mosaic Theater Company

America is but an expensive iPhone.

(L to R) Vaughn Ryan Midder, Kashayna Johnson, and Jeremy Keith Hunter. Photo by Teddy Wolff.
(L to R) Vaughn Ryan Midder, Kashayna Johnson, and Jeremy Keith Hunter. Photo by Teddy Wolff.

If you’ve got that, and its Pink with a sexy ringtone, then you’re in, as in the “in” crowd.

Now, all you need is a baby.

Or so seems the mind-set of Margie, Talisha, and Annie (Ghislaine “Gigi” Dwarka, Renee Elizabeth Wilson, and Kashayna Johnson), three young African-American high school sophomores on their way to motherhood and a whole lot more.

Mosaic Theater Company’s second offering of the 2016 season, Milk Like Sugar, is by up-and-coming playwright Kirsten Greenidge. The terrain might be well-traveled and sitcom funny but the footsteps are new and more painful than ever.

And along the way we see what world we adults have wrought.

Poet Gwendolyn Brook’s infinitely fabulous “The Pool Players: Seven at the Golden Shovel” captures that wild, male, and tragic adolescent sense of self, free from adult interference.

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike Straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

Now, Kirsten Greenidge returns the favor, offering us the soul of three African American urban females living the dream yet never once realizing that they’ve been swallowed whole by a world not of their own making. That world is none other than the American myth that it’s possible to live the dream.

L to R: Tyasia Velines, Vaughn Ryan Midder, Ghislaine Dwarka, Kashayna Johnson (forward), Renee Elizabeth Wilson, and Jeremy Keith Hunter. Photo by Teddy Wolff.
L to R: Tyasia Velines, Vaughn Ryan Midder, Ghislaine Dwarka, Kashayna Johnson (forward), Renee Elizabeth Wilson, and Jeremy Keith Hunter. Photo by Teddy Wolff.

The story is straight from the evening headlines: “Girls Make Pregnancy Pact” but there are no detectives. In fact, there are no adults of any kind, save for one single Mom, Myrna (Deidra LaWan Starnes), whose bitterness over lost dreams renders her incapable of providing guidance. All the other adults referenced in the script are equally self-serving or abusive or both.

As a result, these “lost” girls rely more on the ethos of American commercialism for life coaching than on the wisdom of elders.

It’s Annie’s sweet sixteen. She and her two lifelong friends go after hours to the neighborhood tattoo parlor. The local artist, Antwoine (Jeremy Keith Hunter), is ready to paint the image but Annie cannot decide what type of icon best represents her young adulthood. Margie and Talisha think rose, because it’s so original; but Annie thinks flame because it soon will engulf her.

Talk soon turns to Margie’s pregnancy. Soon it turns to the proposition that all three girls should have babies, not because they really want babies but because–you know, I don’t really know why these girls want babies.

Perhaps, it’s for solidarity’s sake: if one’s with child, then all three should be with child.

Kashayna Johnson. Photo by Teddy Wolff.
Kashayna Johnson. Photo by Teddy Wolff.

Regardless, the pact sets the virgin Annie, this play’s protagonist, on a quest for the father of her baby-to-be. Ironically, the more she pursues that dubious golden grail the more she questions the validity of the honor.

Her knight-in-shining-armor is Malik (Vaughn Ryan Midder), a young man with big dreams: he wants more than anything to leave this world of expensive iPhones and quick hook-ups behind, but Annie’s so void of anything save the yearning to be she doesn’t even understand the concept of a real relationship with real dreams.

And then we have the mysterious Keera (Tyasia Velines), the young Christian girl who’s always hungry, always evangelizing, and always hiding something.

If you’re looking for hope for these young women in Greenidge’s world, don’t look twice because you won’t find it. For their world has been hollowed out and filled with frothy Twinkie goo. It promises delight to the unthinking celebrity culture crowd, but it will never satisfy any of their cravings.

To be sure, under the direction of Jennifer L. Nelson, this company of actors acts their hearts out. We understand their desire; we can even feel for their hopes; but we also know that only the brightest will shine in this sky of painted neon.

For that’s the world we adults have wrought: a world without history, a world without the capacity for critical thought, a world without a legitimate struggle to believe in.

A world spinning fiercely on its axis, but going nowhere it hasn’t been before.

The only hope that we might find in this world of false promises to the young is the painful reality that change must come soon.

Running Time: One hour and 45 minutes, with no intermission.


Milk Like Sugar plays through November 27, 2016, at Mosaic Theater Company of DC performing at the Atlas Performing Arts Center – 1333 H Street NE, in Washington, D.C. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 399-7993 ext. 2, or purchase them online.

DCMetroTheatreArts’ review by Ravelle Brickman.

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Robert Michael Oliver
Robert Michael Oliver, Ph.D., considers himself a Creativist. He has been involved in education and the performing arts in the Washington area since the 1980s. He, along with his wife, Elizabeth Bruce, and Jill Navarre, co-founded The Sanctuary Theatre in 1983. Since those fierce days in Columbia Heights, he has earned his doctorate in theater and performance studies from the University of Maryland, raised two wonderful children, and seen more theater over the five years he worked as a reviewer than he saw in the previous 30. He now co-directs the Sanctuary's Performing Knowledge Project. He has his first book of poetry, The Dark Diary: in 27 refracted moments, due for publication by Finishing Line Press later this year.


  1. I agree entirely. This beautiful written essay is all the more painful today in light of the election results. It’s the triumph of the iPhone users over whatever values we once had.

    As for why they want babies, I don’t think it’s solidarity so much as wanting to turn themselves into adults, and to justify an accident (making you a loser) into a deliberate act, One pregnant teen is pathetic. Three are practically role models.

    And thank you for the Gwendolyn Brooks poem.


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