Live theater, unsolicited commentary. From Detroit to Lansing.


All the publicity for Stormfield Theatre’s full production of Kimberly Akimbo (after the late-2009 staged reading that marked the theater’s inception) trumpets actor Carmen Decker in the title role, and it’s more than earned by Decker’s celebrated decades-long history in Michigan theater and carefully honed performance. Yet what makes this lovingly oddball production of David Lindsay-Abaire’s script really tick is its sharp ensemble feel and embrace of a comedic oddball world in which high school and criminal activity, normal and abnormal, and impending birth and death can coexist, or, more curiously, overlap.

Teenaged Kimberly is the new kid in Bogota, New Jersey; her parents have moved the family here under suspiciously vague circumstances. There’s some witness protection–like allusion to keeping quiet about their past, but it would be impossible for this quirky crowd to blend in or lay low. Hypochondriac Pattie (Deborah Keller) pushes her pregnant belly around the house, her hands bound tightly after a carpal tunnel operation, but her mouth in fine working order to plead and command. Unreliable boozer Buddy (Tommy Gomez) brings the deadbeat dad to new levels of bumbling ineptitude, but manages to stay in the family’s good graces with warmth and heartfelt promises. However, most conspicuous of all is Kimberly, who has a genetic disease causing her body to age at 4.5 times the normal rate. She looks like a grandmother at the age of sixteen, the average life expectancy of people with her condition — her birthday passes as celebrated as a death knell. From her place at the fringes of the social order, Kimberly makes a single friend in Jeff (Comso Greene), another loner who prefers his pastimes of role-playing games and anagrams to fitting in with classmates who ridicule him. Rounding out the ensemble is erratic and dangerous Debra (Michelle Meredith), Kimberly’s aunt, who tracks down the family and seems intent on blowing the mystery of their past wide open. The play's narrow world is intentionally alien and insular, populated entirely by people who couldn’t arrive at normal with a map, yet however unusual or closed-off these characters are, when surrounded by their own kind, their existence feels full instead of pitiable.

As directed by Kristine Thatcher, the production’s best moments are those of high comedy, which is at its peak in scenes with full-gallop pacing, heightening the characters’ idiosyncracies and coaxing big laughs with a barrage of out-there punchlines and sight gags. In other scenes, some early ones especially, a more shuffling pace leaves too much time for contemplation, which doesn’t benefit this quirky world — in the long view, Kimberly’s been dealt a vicious hand in life, made worse by her parents’ inattentiveness and incompetence. At first pathetically self-absorbed and prone to curse-studded bickering, Gomez and Keller excel at meticulously revealing the unexpected logic behind their characters’ shortcomings, which pays off in a wild climactic scene. Meredith’s crass Debra provides a shot of adrenaline with her deliciously pushy energy, providing important counterpoint as the only family member who appears to show interest and affection for Kimberly, even as her terrible life decisions threaten to be a bad influence. As the guileless companion and possible object of Kimberly’s affection, Greene’s work blossoms in reflection of the other characters, but Jeff himself has trouble existing outside of this nucleus — repeated mentions of a subpar relationship with his own dad fail to take root. At the center of the play, Decker is as verbally sassy as she is physically awkward, believably fitting teenage attitude into a delicate, unexpected form. Her performance has moments of keen humor, but is especially rewarding as Kimberly rapidly processes new information and is shaped by her discoveries. Decker ably drives the momentum of the second act scenes to their conclusion, which takes the form of a weird and ambivalent coda marked by uncertainty as well as promise.

The show's underground feel and multiple settings are well met in Michelle Raymond’s geometric puzzle of a set, backed by graphite representations of architecture and a foreboding mural whose symbolism seems up for interpretation. Tim Fox’s lighting is uncomplicated but thorough in the alternative Stormfield space and up-close thrust stage. Raymond is also responsible for sound and properties design, providing an appreciably full amalgamation of objects that often add to the humor of the scene. Costumes by Holly Iler capitalize on Kimberly’s youth in form and detail, and also gives a distinctive feel to the supporting characters. The sum total is a production that makes way for both comedy and darkness, and the two are both felt, but advance no further than occasional shaky symbiosis. Ultimately, this Kimberly Akimbo ably handles its bleaker subject matter with gravitas, but is unquestionably finest in mining the hilarity of an unusual world pushed to extremes.


Post a Comment