Kimberly Akimbo: A relatable “Kimberly” in a cockeyed world
By Carolyn Hayes Harmer
Article: 9659; Posted: May 2, 2015 at 7:30 p.m.
Open Book Theatre closes its first season with an early-career comedy from Pulitzer Prize winner David Lindsay-Abaire, scribe of the melodramatic “Rabbit Hole” and the seriocomic “Good People.” The playwright’s freewheeling “Kimberly Akimbo,” as envisioned by director Topher Alan Payne, is a caring caricature of one dysfunctional family and the one-in-a-million young woman caught in its orbit.
There’s nothing sweet about turning 16 for Kimberly (Connie Cowper), who dresses and talks like a high-schooler but looks like a senior citizen, thanks to a genetic condition that puts her aging process in overdrive. Kim has been recently displaced to a new city, a new school, and a budding new kinship with her geeky classmate Jeff (Miles Bond), a word-puzzle aficionado and enthusiastic dungeon master. If only there were also something new about her same-old family: her parents (Krista Schafer Ewbank and Joshua Brown) are as vulgar and inattentive as ever, and her aunt (Vanessa Sawson) can’t stop nursing a shady streak.
Curiously, rather than retreat to the sidelines of this coming-of-age story, the outsized, curse-a-minute adult characters are actively jockeying for attention. Massively pregnant and sapped of the use of her hands, Ewbank noisily manages a catalog of self-obsessed neuroses, while the baseline-inebriated Brown puzzles out how to play absenteeism personified. Sawson fares best with a character so off-the-wall and unceremonious that almost every fervent outburst reaps guffaws. The ensemble plays carefully with the clever text, drawing out foreboding moments that hint at family secrets to be revealed in good time.
The play’s kooky, bustling developments are mirrored by production design that uses pedantic scene establishment as a thematic highlighter. Payne’s symbolic set depends on large, painted blocks that visually signal a handful of locations: home, library, car, etc. The actors maneuver these blocks between scenes, but also take ample time to craft preemptive tableaus, beneath designer Harley Miah’s splashy lighting and jazzy-improvisational music (also by Payne). Such tightly choreographed busywork isn’t integral to the proceedings, but the tone is in step with this unquestionably cockeyed world.
With such a wild premise and heaped-on eccentricities, the emotional core of the show depends on how well two generationally disparate adult actors can play same-age adolescents. Happily, this production lends itself to easy suspension of disbelief. Bond serves up sincerity as a scene partner and oh-so-tentative love interest; his Jeff is equally believable as a deferential youth and as Kimberly’s peer. Cowper sagely balances the title character’s many facets, throwing out deftly sarcastic asides with audible eye-rolls, but also drinking in her world with fresh and inexperienced eyes. Physically, she’s contending with medical setbacks and the anxiety of having reached her life expectancy. But emotionally, even in the midst of comedic chaos, she’s developing a touching treatise on being phased out before her time. Viewers may be apprehensive about diving into serious weirdness headfirst, but they’ll find solid ground in this warmly relatable heroine.
2 hours and 10 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.
Open Book Theatre Company
Penelope’s Venue, 12219 Dix Toledo Rd., Southgate, MI
Thursday-Saturday at 8:00 p.m., Sunday at 2:00 p.m. br>$20.00/$15.00 students and seniors