Also see Susan's review of Tea and Sympathy
Studio Theatre’s latest offering in its Russian Winter Season is the edgy play, Black Milk. Penned by Vassily Sigarev, the piece offers a look at post-Communist Russian by focusing on two con artists who are stranded in a little country village. Black Milk is a sharply written play that wears its pessimism like a badge of honor.
There is much to recommend this piece. This is a tight show and the characters are fully drawn. The cast is superb and the show works well visually. However, this is a play that goes out of its way to be maudlin. The effort to project the heaviness of the story is a little too obvious despite the occasional infusion of humor, and it becomes tiresome.
Black Milk focuses on a Lyovchik (Matthew Montelongo) and Shura (Holly Twyford). Lyovchik and a pregnant Shura have been traveling the countryside in pursuit of some easy money by selling toasters. Both are coarse, tough-talking people who seem to enjoy confrontation even when it is with each other. Black Milk shows what happens when these two city dwellers are confronted with a more innocent way of life.
Matthew Montelongo and Holly Twyford were last seen together in Studio’s production of Far Away. They display a very powerful chemistry, and the power of their performances is breathtaking. Mr. Montelongo gives a chilling performance as the violent Lyovchik and Ms. Twyford’s take on the obnoxious Shura is very real.
The two are joined by a skilled ensemble that includes Ann Stone (Ticket Clerk), June Hansen (Petrovna) and Elizabeth Stripe (Auntie Pasha). All three provide memorable moments and they give a much needed rest during the chaos portrayed in this play.
The set by Michael Philippi is an authentic rendering of a train station, complete with ticket booth and old grungy chairs. The costumes by Alex Jaeger work especially well by defining each character’s personal situation.
Black Milk is not an easy play to sit through. Its intensity is almost tiring, and those opposed to foul language should not attend. Nonetheless, the performances are top notch and well worth seeing. Black Milk runs through February 13th.
The Studio Theatre
Lyovchik: Matthew Montelongo