Review: KIMBERLY AKIMBO at Altarena Playhouse

Now through February 25th

By: Feb. 04, 2024
Review: KIMBERLY AKIMBO at Altarena Playhouse
Review: KIMBERLY AKIMBO at Altarena Playhouse
Jamison Vaughn, Rowen Cole Weeramantry,
and Peter Marietta in KIMBERLY AKIMBO
Photo by Grizzly De Haro.

KIMBERLY AKIMBO at Altarena Playhouse is a show with depth and humor and heart. The production generates easy laughs, stimulates thought and reflection, but most importantly, it makes you care about the characters. With the teens and adults alike navigating complex situations, making mistakes, hiding hurt, and sharing hope, the show will take audiences on a roller coaster of emotions. KIMBERLY AKIMBO is a show well worth a watch or even two.

KIMBERLY LAVACO is a teenage with a genetic disorder that causes her body to age at over four times the normal rate. Trapped in an aging body, she faces the physical issues of late middle age simultaneously with the emotional challenges of high school. Her insecurities are fueled with the expectant birth of her little sister that her parents hope will be normal. Kimberly forges a friendship with another unusual teen, Jeff,  who is writing a paper on her disease. Her parents Pattie and Buddy refuse to acknowledge the fact that she is reaching the end of her life expectancy. And the whole house is turned upside down by the arrival of the wayward aunt who enlists Kimberly and Jeff in her schemes, and inadvertently reveals some family secrets that threaten to topple the house of cards.

Peter Marietta as Buddy brings nuance and layers to his characters. With a spoto0n Jersey accent, he allows us to see beyond the bravado to a man who has lost his dreams before he even knew what they might be. He shows us how mistakes and love can often go hand-in-hand. Allison Gamlen as Pattie has her own set of complexities starting with avoidance. Her foul-mouth is saying one thing, but her eyes often reveal another. Caroline Schneider as Debra gives us one of the only straight-shooting characters of the show. Her intensity is well used to bring laughs as well as tip the scale that takes an argument into full blown chaos. Rowen Cole Weeramantry as the bright-eyed Jeff is full of all good things. He hits the notes of anxious teen with acumen and sincerity. Leading the cast is Jamison Vaughn as Kimberly Lavaco. Her use of pauses and throw away lines combined with the look of longing in her eyes, builds a complex character that at once hates to be the center of attention while also yearning to be really seen. Just like a teenager, she is an enigma and feels everything at once. Vaughn was also able to demonstrate how a seasoned pro handles a sound cue that gets stuck. Together the cast blends into a family and moves as if they have had years and years of shared time together.

Director Dana Anderson has this show moving at a perfect pace. Scenes that need to breathe have the room to do so, and others move you along the story briskly. There is not a lull in the whole thing. The actors are given movement that makes sense and furthers the story and also protects the views of the audience surrounding the thrust stage. The scenic design by Elinor Almagor is rich with detail and provides points of engagement for the actors. Costume Designer Janice Stephenson gives each character clothes that are an extension of their personalities. The Lighting Design by Danielle Ferguson worked well for the upstage action, but caused some cross lighting issues for scenes downstage and the audience on the sides had a bit too much light aimed directly at them that was a bit distracting. The scenes transitioned smoothly for the most part and only once or twice were stretched a few seconds too long. On the whole the artistic and production teams were on the same page and devised a show with continuity and purpose.

KIMBERLY AKIMBO is a show that refuses to be categorized as it is neither a simple comedy nor a heavy drama. A truer description is that it is a show that reflects life, real life. It is full of complex people and complex situations. There are people that we love but also wish they could do better. There are things we try to avoid, but it never really works. And among a mountain of wishes and hopes and failures and frustration, there are times of simple pleasure and goodness. KIMBERLY AKIMBO reminds us what it means to be alive and that we should never take that blessing for granted. 

KIMBERLY AKIMBO is playing at Altarena Playhouse through February 25th.