BWW Reviews: KIMBERLY AKIMBO: I Won't Grow Up
Written by David Lindsay-Abaire, Directed by Allison Olivia Choat; Producing Artistic Director, Sharman Altshuler; Scenic Design, John Paul Devlin; Costume Design, Susanne Miller; Lighting Design, Jeffrey E. Salzberg; Projection Design, Matthew Houstle; Sound Design, Joel Abbott; Stage Manager, Matthew Zahnzinger; Original Music Composed by Dan Rodruguez
Performances through April 25 by Moonbox Productions at Plaza Theatre, Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont Street, Boston, MA; Box Office 617-933-8600 or www.moonbox.org
Kimberly Levaco is a sixteen-year old girl with a rare disease (a form of progeria) that causes her body to age four and half times faster than it should. That may not be the worst of her problems in David Lindsay-Abaire's black comedy, Kimberly Akimbo, now being staged by Moonbox Productions at the Plaza Theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts. In an unusual example of a coming-of-age story, Kimberly must also deal with her dysfunctional parents, her scam-artist aunt, and the terrifying prospect of first love even as she faces her mortality.
Director Allison Olivia Choat pulls together all the quirky aspects of the play, the real and the surreal, creating an atmosphere that allows us to feel how these people live, just trying to carve out a little hope and happiness with the specter of doom hanging in the balance. Considering her limited future, Kimberly is a realist, but not a "Debby Downer," and Sheriden Thomas, a mature actor, plays her with an adolescent edge and matter-of-factness born of necessity. Thomas remains in touch with her inner teenager as she manifests the eye rolls, slumping shoulders, and insecurity of the species. However, she also captures the aspect of teetering on adulthood as Kimberly is often placed in the position of parenting her inept parents.
Her mother Pattie (Micah Greene) is challenged in a variety of ways. She is very pregnant, has both wrists in casts following carpal tunnel surgery, and happens to believe that she is dying. She also has a potty mouth, a shrewish temper, and an egocentric personality, treating Kimberly like Cinderella and constantly berating her husband. Buddy (Andrew Winson) is an alcoholic sad sack with generally good intentions, but little ability to follow through. They have recently moved the family from Secaucus to Bogota, New Jersey, for a mysterious reason that will be revealed later, throwing the family dynamic into greater turmoil than already exists. Key to exposing the secret is Pattie's ne'er-do-well sister Debra (Shana Dirik) who unexpectedly appears on their doorstep toting an array of chemicals and a big, blue U.S. mailbox before they can yank the welcome mat.
Kimberly is befriended by Jeff (Lucas Cardona), an unpopular nerd who wants to write a paper about her disease. They bond over their shared differentness and desire to find refuge from home. Jeff's father doesn't pay any attention to him, occupied as he is with his addict brother, so Jeff splits his time between working at Zippy Burger and creating anagrams. After interviewing Kimberly for his assignment, they develop a sweet attachment to each other. When Aunt Debra shows up, she sweeps them into her web with the promise of quick and easy money.
Dirik is a hoot and threatens to steal the show playing totally against type. She inhabits Debra, a crude, streetwise survivor, walking a line between vulnerability and toughness, and gives her greater authenticity with her lowbrow New Jersey accent. She and Greene are well-matched as the sisters who compete to see which of them is more to be pitied and which of them can win favor with Kimberly. Pattie tries to appear to be in control, but is emotionally needy and harboring a fear that the new baby will be anything less than perfect. She lashes out at Buddy for all of his imperfections, and despite his weaknesses, he gives as good as he gets. Winson makes him very sympathetic, especially in a scene where he self-consciously records his regrets onto a cassette for the baby.
The design team of John Paul Devlin (scenic), Jeffrey E. Salzberg (lighting), Susanne Miller (costume), Joel Abbott (sound), and Matthew Houstle (projection) collaborate effectively with a minimalist approach, using a table and chairs for the library, a kitchen set and a fridge for the Levaco's apartment, and different configurations of chairs to suggest the family car or a bench outside a skating rink. The actors are helped into the persona of their characters by their outfits. Composer Dan Rodriguez's original music played between scenes features a bass line with what sounds like the plunking of keys on a toy piano.
Choat deserves credit for being able to visualize a way to transfer Lindsay-Abaire's words from page to stage and humanize this strange group of characters, while mining both the humor and the pathos. The quality of the play depends heavily on the credibility of the actor playing Kimberly. If she can convince the audience that she is a sixteen-year old girl who just happens to look like a middle-aged woman, then everything flows from that. Thomas makes it look easy, but Kimberly Akimbo works because of five excellent performances that make us laugh and touch our hearts.
Photo credit: Sharman Altshuler (Micah Greene, Andrew Winson, Sheriden Thomas)