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09 April 2008

Kimberly Akimbo

From wnctheatre, http://wnctheatre.livejournal.com/

Kimberly Akimbo, written by David Lindsay-Abaire and directed by Jason Williams, is currently running at ACT’s 35 Below. The script is a bit like a MadTV sketch run amok, with a little Lifetime Original Movie thrown in for good measure, but the production manages to elevate it at least to entertaining, if not to some of the emotional depth perhaps the playwright hoped for.

Briefly, Kimberly is a 16-year-old girl with a rare condition where she ages four times faster than normal. Add some dysfunctional parents, her ex-con vagrant aunt, and her Dungeon Master anagram-loving uberdork of a potential boyfriend, and you have Kimberly Akimbo. Joyce Wood convincingly plays the title character, aptly embodying the physical and emotional life of a teenage girl without falling into a lot of easy clich├ęs one might expect from an older person trying to behave as an adolescent. The rest of the cast is equally adept at handling and often making better their material, with a particularly stand-out funny first scene from Rebecca Morris as the aforementioned aunt.

Direction from Jason Williams is sharp and attentive, and music choices throughout the play are spot-on. The set is simple and charming, suited perfectly to the space, and is about what I’d expect to see if, say, Napoleon Dynamite were adapted into a stage show. The only small production element that I think could have been a little better was Kimberly’s wardrobe; they got close, but I think a little more time could have been spent observing outside of Hot Topic to get the look just right, which I feel is important given the unusual nature of the character.

I don’t know that this is a must-see, but I’m glad I gave it a chance.


Anonymous said...

Found this to be a lovely evening of theater, with special commendations to be made to the younf actor, Nathan, whose goofy naturaliness in his role was a neverending joy.


Mary A said...

Kimberly Akimbo is certainly worth checking out – funny, raunchy, and clever, it’s a good fit for 35Below’s space, and its aesthetic.

The show was extremely well cast for type, particularly Joyce Wood, who plays Kimberly. She does a nice job playing a 16-year-old girl, with just the right amount of sullen pouting and slumping. She is more convincing as a teenager than the actual highschooler in the cast.

Wood managed to make me forget her age, so that when she appears briefly wearing “old lady” clothes, I was as shocked as the characters on stage. I’m sad that the staging worked to undercut this moment (one of the best in the play); Kimberly slowly enters from downstage left, with her back to the audience, so that the audience has time to see her and react to the idea of her, before the other actors even notice she’s there.

Rebecca Morris flat out stole the show as the jittery, foul-mouthed Aunt Debra, who cracked me up again and again, as when she casually offers the teenaged Jeff a handjob, then does a double take and asks: “you legal?” Morris’s portrayal is hilariously wrong, and a little scary, too, with a focus that is somewhat lacking in the rest of the cast.

I’m not sure if I’m reading the meaning correctly, but I think I agree with wnctheatre’s statement that “the production manages to elevate it at least to entertaining, if not to some of the emotional depth perhaps the playwright hoped for.”

While quite funny in places (including hands down the best representation of D&D playing since Freaks & Geeks), this production fails to convey the gut-wrenching pain of Kim's situation. I think the skill of the actors just wasn’t up to tackling the precarious balance between humor and tragedy that Lindsay-Abaire’s script requires. This was most evident in the final scene of the play, when Kimberly and Jeff take a road trip through a safari park. I assume it is meant to be poignant and unsettling, but the actors played the menace of the park so hard that I found myself wondering if the play was going to end with a surprise death-by-hippo. (It didn’t. Spoiler alert!)

Although I’ve focused on the flaws, Kimberly Akimbo was one of the best shows I’ve seen at 35Below. And despite, or perhaps because of its flaws, it still had me thinking the next morning – there was a lot of good to keep me engaged. Jason Williams did a great job tackling a challenging play, and I hope he and ACT continue to pick interesting plays to do in the future.

chall gray said...

Well, I can see that I'm in the minority here, but I left the showing feeling that it had failed me.

I thought the acting was commendable, and the set was interesting--though many of the scene changes seemed to be just slow enough to detract from the emotion--but the main thing was the script which to me seemed, ultimately, a failure.

For about the first quarter of the show I was into it, then that began to unravel a little by the intermission, and more throughout the second act, until the final curtain, at which point I could only think how contrived the second half of the play had seemed.

I think it better to not go into my exact problems with the script, lest I were to spoil the show for anyone, but that was how I--an admittedly tough critic--came away from this play.

Some very entertaining moments, especially with Darren and Rebecca, but in the end I was left wanting.