07 May 2017

Kimberly Akimbo, by David Lindsay-Abaire

A well-written comedy well performed makes for a delightful evening. And MT Pockets’ production of David Lindsay-Abaire’s Kimberly Akimbo was a delightful evening. Under Christian Cox’s direction, the cast put on a very strong performance, working cohesively together to create a fantastic production of a very funny play.

I’ve seen one of Lindsay-Abaire’s other plays—Rabbit Hole—and he certainly doesn’t disappoint here. Kimberly Akimbo follows Kim Lavaco, who has a disease which makes her age four and a half times the normal rate. The average life expectancy for someone with this disease is 16 years old. And Kim has just turned 16. And while this doesn’t sound like a comic set up, when you throw the rest of Kim’s dysfunctional family into the mix, it really gets farcical. Her dad, Buddy, is a (semi-)recovering alcoholic; her mom, Pattie, is heavily pregnant and seems to have given herself hypochondria as a way to cope with Kim’s likely early death; Aunt Debra is a grafter, drifter, and criminal who steals a mailbox as part of a scheme to wash checks and get Kim and her friend Jeff to cash them posing as a boy and his grandma; and finally Jeff, who is new to Kim’s life and the ultra-nerd tries to navigate the waters of Kim and her odd, secretive family. While none of these elements may in themselves be funny, when it’s put all together Lindsay-Abaire has struck a great balance between the farcical and the absurd, with just the right number of serious moments blended in.

Of course, a comedy with this many moving parts presents a major challenge in performance because every character is funny, so it’s imperative to have a strong cast to support all of those funny roles. And Cox cast a fantastic group for this show. Charlotte Haas played Kim with the biting wit and sarcasm of a surly teenager; Andrew T. Blood played Buddy, alternating between bursts of anger and a sense of helplessness; Tawnya Drake’s very New Jersey Pattie was fantastic as she complained, berated her family, and recorded audio tapes for her unborn child documenting her life and views; Lauren Swann gave a gruff and comically intrusive Aunt Debra; and Adam Messenger played a Steve Urkel kind of Jeff, relentlessly cheerful, continually shocked, and geekily enthusiastic about D&D and anagrams.

While all the actors were excellent, probably the standout performances came from Haas and Drake. While their performance styles were very different, they each brought their characters to live extremely well. Haas was generally understated, relying on sarcasm and a teenage surliness which is key to the role—a role which derives much of its punch in the contrast of the teenage girl against the older woman’s body, reminding us to be cautious about judging from appearances. Haas did a fantastic job playing the teen, even her body language conveyed teenage boredom, angst, and disillusion. For instance, when Kim confronts her parents about her unborn sister’s genetic code, Haas leaned against the wall with her arms folded to convey a teenage isolation and weaponized disinterest. On the other hand, Drake went big with her performance of Pattie—and big comic performances is where Drake really shines. Her Pattie was loud, was a talker, and shifted rapidly between anger at her unreliable, alcoholic husband, loving coos into the tape recorded for her future child, and extensive complaining about her multitude of (partially imaginary) illnesses.

The program still includes a note that the company is adjusting to the new LED lights—and the lighting was a point of critique in my last MT Pockets review. While there is still some room for improvement, the lighting this time was substantially better. The LEDs seem most adept at creating atmospheric lighting (that is, lighting the stage as a whole rather than highlighting bits and pieces like a spot light, or in changing dynamically) which is really what a play like Kimberly Akimbo seems to call for. It is a show that benefits from unobtrusive lighting, particularly when the acting and the storyline mesh as well as this production.

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