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Playwright Kirsten Greenidge returns to Huntington Theatre with ‘Milk Like Sugar’

Colette Greenstein
Colette Greenstein has been a contributing arts & entertainment writer for the Banner since 2009. VIEW BIO
Playwright Kirsten Greenidge returns to Huntington Theatre with ‘Milk Like Sugar’
Shazi Raja, Jasmine Carmichael, and Carolina Sanchez star in “Milk Like Sugar.” (Photo: Nile Scott Shots/Nile Hawver)

It was on a school field trip to the Huntington Theatre to see August Wilson’s ‘Joe Turner’s Come and Gone’ that 12-year old Kirsten Greenidge knew she wanted to be a playwright.

“For the first time in my life I saw black people on stage who were there to tell stories. Complicated stories. Rhythmical stories. Stories that were at once proud, true, painful, and funny,” wrote Greenidge for the Huntington’s blog — about her first experience at the theater when her play “Luck of the Irish” premiered there in 2012.

Greenidge, who had been exposed to Broadway shows like “Annie” and “The Wiz” at a very young age by her mother, recalls how she was “always a little bit dramatic” and how her and her sisters were “always putting on plays with the kids in their neighborhood,” says the Arlington, Mass., native by phone recently.

Now, some 20-odd years later, her imagination and flair for the dramatic has paid off handsomely. Kirsten is A Village Voice/Obie Award winner, a recent PEN/America Laura Pels Award recipient, and currently a Huntington Theatre Playwriting Fellow. She’s also working with the La Jolla Playhouse, the professional theatre-in-residence on the campus of the University of California at San Diego, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and The Kennedy Center on commissioned projects, while serving as an assistant professor of Theater at Boston University’s Center for Fine Art.

In her Obie Award-winning play “Milk Like Sugar,” set to premiere on January 29 at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, Kirsten once again touches upon the intersection of race and class through three teenage girls — Annie (Jasmine Carmichael), Talisha (Shazi Raja) and Margie (Carolina Sanchez) — who enter into a “pregnancy pact.”

The play was partly inspired by the 2008 event that rocked the small town of Gloucester, Mass., in which 18 teenage girls mostly under the age of 16 entered what many townspeople believed to be a pregnancy pact. Greenidge became interested in what was happening in the North Shore town.

“I think I’ve always been interested in teenage pregnancy and making that choice,” she says. “As a young girl, teenage pregnancy is something we’re often scared about; like ‘don’t do that. It’s a bad thing. You want to be the good girl,’ and that young girls would choose that, seems to be opposite of what we’re told you’d want to do, you’d want to be.”

If you go

The Huntington Theatre Company presents “Milk Like Sugar” Friday, January 29 through February 27 at the Roberts Studio Theatre in the South End/Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA. Single tickets starting at $25 and FlexPasses are on sale online at huntingtontheatre.org; by phone at 617.266.0800; or in person at the BU Theatre Box Office, 264 Huntington Ave., and the Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA Box Office, located at 527 Tremont Street in the South End.

Written in 2008, “Milk Like Sugar” explores the idea of choices, “the idea of feeling trapped, the absence of choice,” as well as isolation and loneliness.

“We’re pretty much attached to our phone and ostensibly you are connected to an entire universe with your phone, and yet many people feel very alone, even with all that access,” explains Greenidge. “And, so that’s something I’m interested in with this play.”

Greenidge has come a long way since the drama was initially written and produced. On thinking back about how she’s changed since that time, Greenidge recalls that her daughter hadn’t even turned a year old.

“I don’t think I realized know how large and expansive theater could be. I would work on one or two projects at a time and I got easily overwhelmed by them, and easily overwhelmed by the writing process. I think I spent a lot of time being like a wilting flower, like, ‘I can’t, I don’t know what I’m going to do,’ ” says the playwright.

She goes on to add, “This process came along and I’ve been fortunate enough to get a lot of commissions after Milk Like Sugar’ and during ‘Milk Like Sugar.’ I had another child and my capacity to be able to toggle back and forth between writing and teaching and parenting and generating work has expanded in ways in that I did not know were possible, which is good, because I need that to be a working artist. When I began this process, I don’t know if I would be a working playwright if I had not had La Jolla Playhouse and Theater Masters call me up eight years ago and say ‘we have this project, would you like to do it?’ For that, I am eternally grateful.”