Hilarious creation onstage

Performance: Playwright David Lindsay-Abaire adroitly pulls a happy ending out of his hat in a very funny `Kimberly Akimbo.'


Howard Live

February 03, 2005|By William Hyder | William Hyder,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Playwright David Lindsay-Abaire has created a hilarious play from unpromising material in Kimberly Akimbo, which runs through Feb. 20 at Rep Stage.

Kimberly Levaco is spirited, resilient and just 16. As the show begins she is waiting for her father, Buddy, at a skating rink. He promised to pick her up after work; instead he went to a bar, leaving Kim to sit in the cold for hours. She is angry but not surprised. Buddy has a history of broken promises.

Kim's mother, Pattie, is as self-centered as Buddy. She is pregnant and looking forward to having her baby. Nothing else matters. And she has to be waited on constantly. Both her hands are covered in bandages from a carpal tunnel operation.

Buddy and Pattie have a tempestuous relationship that leaves no room for Kim. That kind of family life would be punishing enough for any teenager, but Kim is special. She has a genetic affliction that ages her body at 4 1/2 times the normal rate.

She looks like a woman of 72, and her days are numbered: The average life expectancy of someone with her disease is 16 years.

Something good comes into Kim's life when a schoolmate shows an interest in her. Jeff McCracken is a geek who solves word puzzles and plays Dungeons and Dragons. He creates an anagram of her name: KIMBERLY LEVACO becomes CLEVERLY AKIMBO.

Kim does not know the word akimbo; Jeff explains that it means hands on hips, elbows out. A touching scene set in a library shows the two kids shyly discovering their love.

From out of nowhere comes Kim's long-lost aunt, Debra Watts - homeless, strong, excitable and belligerent. She is on fire to pull off a check-forging scheme, and she needs the help of the two kids.

Surrounded by all this madness, Kim struggles to survive and make a life for herself.

It is a great role, and Helen Hedman rises to the challenge beautifully. Subtle makeup gives her the face of a woman in her 70s, but her behavior is that of a troubled teenager - by turns enthusiastic, stoical, angry, sarcastic, resigned. Hedman is especially effective in her big scene in Act II.

As part of the criminal scheme hatched by Aunt Debra, Kim is posing as an older woman and dressing like one. She wants money to take her parents on a long-promised vacation, a last attempt to create a normal family life for herself.

It does not happen. The family's problems worsen as unpleasant family secrets are revealed. Kim has to make a decision about how she will use the time she has left. Against the odds, the playwright adroitly pulls a happy ending out of his hat.

The script, although dealing with situations that are essentially tragic, is loaded with laughs. Under Kasi Campbell's knowing direction, the actors make the most of them.

Bruce R. Nelson, as Buddy, is burly and blustery, weak but well-meaning - a man you can't dislike despite his faults.

Sherri L. Edelen energetically portrays the volatile Pattie.

James Flanagan gives Jeff McCracken the right mixture of sincerity and insecurity. Kerri Rambow, showing a gift for comic delivery and body language, creates a memorable Aunt Debra.

An ingenious set by Milagros Ponce de Leon uses three set pieces, shifted and rotated as the play's action moves along, to indicate the kitchen, Kim's bedroom and a public library.

The stagehands, dressed in colors complementing the set and following choreographed movements, become an entertaining part of the show.

The kitchen set, however, raises a question. It is a trim, antiseptic room with an upscale look - not what one would expect to find in the house of the troubled, low-income family on the stage.

Lindsay-Abaire's script is full of the four-letter words and scatological references that modern comedy writers regard as essential. Older playgoers might be uncomfortable with the language, but there is no denying that Kimberly Akimbo is a very funny show.

Rep Stage presents "Kimberly Akimbo" at 8 p.m. Fridays, 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 20 in Theatre Outback, Howard Community College, Columbia. Reservations: 410-772-4900.

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