Doin' the funky chicken
"I hope I bring the ability to see this character as a soul first, not a chicken."
– Joe Hartman
Some real answers to made-up questions about the pretty hilarious-sounding MilkMilkLemonade, Joshua Conkel's comedy about a fifth-grader with a very imaginative – and grownup – interior life, which gets its Austin premiere from Shrewd Productions starting Sept. 9.
Austin Chronicle: What drew the Shrewds to produce this play?
Producer/actor Shannon Grounds: The first thing that grabbed me was the description of this lonely boy choreographing ribbon-stick dance numbers for himself, with his best friend who was a giant talking chicken.
Director Jason Hays: I relate so very closely with him, it's frightening. ... [As a boy] I escaped into my imagination, choreographing roller-skating numbers in my driveway to Whitney Houston songs.
AC: But, roller-skating, what ...?
Actor Joe Hartman: It's campy; it's bitter, heartfelt, sympathetic, brutal, and more than a touch bizarre.
AC: Speaking of bizarre: Joe, how did you approach the role of the giant talking chicken named Linda?
Hartman: I've played a lot of underdogs, which Linda certainly is; a few animals, mostly bears [editor's note: Wait, what?]; and a few ladies as well. The women I've played actually have more in common with the part than the animals, because they've all been fighters – women battling to be winners.
AC: And this chicken talks?
Hartman: Most of the time Linda doesn't talk, per se – she clucks and bawks and pkaws, and the play's narrator, this awkward woman in a black leotard, translates for her.
AC: Okay, so but ...
Hartman: At first I didn't know how to move in her body. Is she a real chicken with real chicken movements? How much of her soul is woman and how much is chicken?
AC: Okay moving on, Xaq Webb? You're playing an effeminate 11-year-old boy. How did you prepare?
Webb: I'm lucky that I have my cousin Anna. She's that age, so we've been playing with a lot of Barbies together. You know, as a character study.
AC: Look. The play sounds fun. But every time I hear the title, the prissy 8-year-old inside me frowns and says, "Ick."
Hays: The dirty children's rhyme that serves as the title represents growing up, learning about our bodies, and coming to terms with who and what we are.
Grounds: Especially the issues we face when we're first starting to grow up – how adults immediately want us to be defined and limited by our physical bodies and what that means to them and how strange and upsetting that can be for a child who hasn't started defining certain things, certain parts of themselves, as "bad" or "secret."
AC: You are bringing my inner priss around.
Grounds: This play is about being brave enough to define your own identity. The struggle to fight for who you really are and be happy with that.
Hartman: Ultimately, I took a lot of inspiration from Betty White in the episode of The Golden Girls when they do the children's play Henny Penny. Her and Joan Rivers.
MilkMilkLemonade runs Sept. 9-26, Thursday-Sunday, 8pm, at the Vortex, 2307 Manor Rd. For more information, call 478-5282 or visit www.shrewdproductions.com.