By Tulis McCall
There have been times over the past couple of decades that something wafts over me at the exact second when the curtain rises. It is sort of a flight or fight reflex, because this feeling is telling me that the show I am about to watch is going to be a train wreck. So far it has always been accurate.
Because I am reviewing the show I must stay. Of course there are the rare shows where something redeeming happens and I am glad I stuck it out. Sorry to say that “Goldie, Max and Milk,” by Karen Hartman and part of the Volt Project was not one of them.
One note here is that I was watching an understudy, Victoria Huston-Elem in the lead role, (replacing Shayna Small)and Ms. Huston-Elem acquitted herself very well indeed. As a matter of fact this entire cast is not half bad. They give Karen Hartman and director Jackson Gay a great run for their money. The gifting does not work in the other direction.
This is an excellent idea for a story – a single gay mother, Max (Huston-Elem )is faced with being, well, a single gay mother. Her former partner Lisa (Blair Baker) wants her back because the affair that took Blair away went into the crapper. On top of that Max cannot express her milk and must call upon the services of a coach, Goldie (Lauren Molina) an orthodox Jew complete with conservative clothes and a wig. Goldie considers motherhood a sacred calling and her SEVEN children are gifts from G-d. She does not approve of Max, or the dilapidated state of her home – it is a house in Brooklyn with a leaky roof, and if the set is to be trusted there is not a refrigerator or much else besides a rocking chair and a couple of stools. Goldie, however, puts her calling ahead of her judgement and the two women begin to bond. Goldie also has an eldest daughter Shayna (Beatrice Ethel Tulchin) who is in the closet and makes a bee-line to visit to Max once she hears that Max is gay. She shows up uninvited with a pan of kugel that is a sorry site, and worms her way in with no creds to speak of.
Technical notes. I was distracted by a package of diapers that had tipped onto the floor at the beginning of the play. During the entire first act nobody picks up the package. And when the father of the baby, Mike (Timiki Salinas) an eager and ineffective young man who makes his living dealing drugs to high class people, shows up with a high class car seat, he knocks a stuffed animal off the counter and never picks it up. There is a baby blanket that spends equal time on the floor and on the baby. A final “who is paying attention here?” moment happened after Max goes grocery shopping and places all the groceries on her tiny counter. A few minutes later she has a hissy fit and kicks the counter. All the groceries fall to the floor, which is where they stay for the entire first act.
I am not certain, but it seems that the actors were going point to point because of the understudy situation. Maybe. But it felt like they were stranded. The better part of this is because the text is lacking. Ditto the direction. Long story short, nothing is believable. Not a single thing. Not the overdose. Not the abduction. And not the baby.
This is a mystery production. How did it happen and why? I am clueless. There is a slew of good intentions here, but they don’t amount to much. Too bad.
Goldie, Max and Milk by Karen Hartman, directed by Jackson Gay
The cast of Goldie, Max & Milk includes Blair Baker (The Play That Goes Wrong) as Lisa, Victoria Huston-Elem (Golden Boy of the Blue Ridge) as Understudy for Max/Goldie/Shayna/Lisa, Lauren Molina (Desperate Measures) as Goldie, Nick Piacente (“That Damn Michael Che”) as U/S Mike, Timiki Salinas (Much Ado About Nothing) as Mike, Shayna Nicole Small (Parable of the Sower) as Max, and Beatrice Ethel Tulchin (Matilda the Musical) as Shayna.
Goldie, Max & Milk features scenic design by Junghyun Georgia Lee (Teenage Dick), costume design by Lee & Ilana Breitman (Pippin), lighting design by Kate McGee (The Hang), sound design by Sun Hee Kil (Suffs), and props design by Nick Campano (Spring Fling: Happily Ever After).
Presented by Mary J. Davis & MBL Productions, Goldie, Max & Milk is part of the inaugural VOLT Festival at 59E59, which this year, honors the work of Karen Hartman. Goldie, Max & Milk began previews May 1, 2022, in Theater C and opened May 8 for a run through June 4, 2022.