Theater Review: “Kimberly Akimbo”
While the inebriant, family dramas—Firehouse’s Cat On A Hot Tin Roof and Richmond Triangle Players’ Suddenly, Last Summer—that populated the Tennessee Williams Centennial Celebration here in Richmond come to a close, Cadence Theatre Company, in partnership with Barksdale’s Theatre Gym, commences their 2011-2012 season with an additional opportunity for Richmond to encounter dysfunctional family life.
The production is David Lindsay-Abaire’s Kimberly Akimbo, a story about 16-year-old Kimberly Levaco (Irene Ziegler) who is afflicted with progeria, a rare syndrome that makes her age four and half times faster than normal. Her family has recently moved to Bogota, New Jersey, a working-class neighborhood, from Secaucus under questionable circumstances. Similar to Tennessee Williams’ propensity to shroud his black comedies in mystery, Lindsay-Abaire, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Rabbit Hole, keeps us wondering, too, throughout the play: “What happened in Secaucus?”
Additionally, Kimberly has reached the average age that progeria patients die, and her mother, Pattie (Debra Wagoner), is pregnant with another child, whose birth she hopes will console her grief over her sickly daughter’s impending death. Her father, Buddy (Richard Koch), tries his best to assume his role as a father—he obviously cares for Kimberly and is protective of her against her nerdy, anagram artist schoolmate Jeff (Matthew Mitchell)—but his own past with a negligent father stops him from reaching his paternal potential. He’s better at making shallow promises then keeping them.
But, unlike Tennessee Williams’ ominous tones and depressing outcomes, Kimberly Akimbo is more optimistic and is enlivened with an effusion of eccentric, hilarious family dynamics that, under the zippy direction of Anna Johnson, it’s like watching a family cartoon play out on stage. Sound designer Jesse Senechal’s playful usage of the Looney Tunes soundtrack in between scenes helps enforce this animated texture.
The conflict between Kimberly’s fortitude to live her life fully—“to persevere in life” and “to see the world” as her parents would say hypocritically—against the fact that her alcoholic father and hypochondriac mother have prematurely put her six feet under is empowering to watch. Learning about the events surrounding her parents’ exodus from Secaucus gives Kimberly good reason to own her own life as she overcomes her deteriorating health and her parents’ broken promises.
As the brisk action unfolds in the intimacy of the Barksdale Theatre Gym that set designer Terrie Powers has modeled into the Levaco’s unkempt, not-well decorated home, I was struck by the cohesiveness of this ensemble of five. This uniformly strong cast acts convincingly like a lower middle-class family living paycheck to paycheck, whose daily diet meagerly consists of Pabst Blue Ribbon and Zippy burgers. They are trying the best they can to survive like those protesters at Occupy Wall Street.
It’s not surprising, therefore, that the artistic director of the Richmond Theatre Critics Circle Awards-nominated Godspell has once again adeptly converted critically controversial material—Lindsay-Abaire’s script can feel bizarre and inconceivable at times—into a performance that is, to put it crisply, two hours of goofy fun.
Irene Ziegler embodies Kimberly’s liveliness and optimism with heartfelt conviction. Ziegler always keeps Kimberly youthful and finely girly. Debra Wagoner plays Pattie and really knows how to lay down the guilt on Kimberly; she is needy but, oddly, you sympathize with her need to want a healthy child that won’t die—on average—after adolescence. Jill Bari Steinberg is excellent at playing Debra, Pattie’s crude and crass sister, an ex-con who needs a bath. She solicits Kimberly and Jeff to help her in a money-laundering scheme. Lastly, Matthew Mitchell’s Jeff intensely impressed me—he’s expertly socially inept as well as tender in his care towards Kimberly—he was a standout.
Kimberly Akimbo, a performance that I recommend you see, has laid the ground work for Cadence Theatre’s next dysfunctional family drama: the tumultuous August: Osage County planned for this upcoming February.
5 out of 5 Stars
“Kimberly Akimbo” runs through November 5th, 2011 at Barksdale’s Theatre Gym at the Empire Theatre. For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.barksdalerichmond.org/. Photo by Jay Paul.
Matthew Miller is the former arts editor and chief theater critic for GAYRVA.com. A Chicago native, he holds a B.A. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He currently resides in Richmond, VA and is a member of the Richmond Theatre Critics Circle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Matthew Miller on Twitter twitter.com/matthewkmiller
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