A topsy-turvy look at family in `Akimbo'

THEATER

Theater Review

February 04, 2005|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

David Lindsay-Abaire's Kimberly Akimbo combines a tried-and-true theme with a tried-and-true subgenre. The theme is that old chestnut about the insane being saner than those who are supposedly normal (think King of Hearts or One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest).

The subgenre is that American theatrical favorite - the dysfunctional-family play (think Eugene O'Neill or Tennessee Williams or Edward Albee or Christopher Durang, etc.).

In Lindsay-Abaire's variation on this plot and theme, the primary ailment is physical, not mental. Teenager Kimberly Levaco suffers from a condition similar to progeria, causing her to age 4 1/2 times faster than usual. Using this condition as his starting point, the playwright has forged a wacky domestic comedy in which the teenagers are more mature than the adults.

At Rep Stage in Columbia, director Kasi Campbell and her cast play the wackiness full out - sometimes too full. And though the daffiness of the adult characters contrasts nicely with the gentle, understated, budding relationship between Kim and a classmate named Jeff, the chief difficulty with Kimberly Akimbo is that it tries too hard.

Kim is 16 chronologically, but she not only looks older than her parents, she acts older, too. Lindsay-Abaire spells this out repeatedly, in dialogue and action.

Early on, Kim brings out a jar and instructs her profanity-spewing parents to put a nickel in it every time they utter a curse word. She also has to feed her pregnant mother, both of whose hands are bandaged from recent carpal tunnel surgery.

To achieve the proper degree of topsy-turviness, the actress playing Kim should be a senior citizen. Campbell, however, has cast a considerably younger actress, Helen Hedman, who plays the role with minimal makeup. Hedman's adolescent body language is effective, but instead of the disturbing image of a young girl trapped in the body of an old woman, we see someone suspended between both poles, lessening the shock value.

The most convincing portrayal is James Flanagan's depiction of Kim's friend Jeff. Presumably the play's most conventional character, Jeff is an outsider in his own right, a nerdy anagram fanatic dependent on anxiety medication. Flanagan thoroughly captures the sweet soul of this gawky kid, who finds a kindred spirit in Kim.

Bruce R. Nelson and Sherri L. Edelen fare adequately as Kim's self-centered parents, with Nelson letting a welcome hint of family feeling creep under his character's blustering facade. Kerri Rambow, however, ventures way too far over the top in the already over-the-top role of Kim's aunt. A homeless ex-con, Rambow's loud, uninhibited Aunt Debra ropes Kim and Jeff into a scheme of ludicrous proportions - and that's saying something in the context of this play.

Designer Milagros Ponce de Leon's modular set and Alex Cooper's bright lighting situate most of the action in a space vaguely reminiscent of an institution. Combined with the forced joviality of the punk-looking stagehands who move the scenery, the overall effect suggests we are in the land of the lunatic fringe. It's a land in which everything is akimbo except Kimberly - a point that would be more moving if it didn't feel so forced.

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