by Hugh Hunter
“Kimberly Akimbo,” now running at Stagecrafters, takes you on a madcap romp. Written by David Lindsay-Abaire in 2000, the play explores the Levaco family in which dysfunction is the norm.
The place is a small town in New Jersey. The time is the present, and the main character is Kimberly (Sonya Aiko Hearn). Afflicted with progeria, a rare genetic disorder that causes premature aging, Kimberly is a high school girl on the outside, an old lady on the inside.
When she turns to family for support, we meet a collection of self-absorbed wackos. Her mother, Pattie (Nancy Bennett), is very pregnant and a hypochondriac. Her arms are taped at the elbows to treat carpal tunnel. Pattie is ashamed of Kimberly and ignores her as she fumbles to tape-record messages to her unborn child.
Her father, Buddy (Michael Fallon), is a drunk with a dead-end job. He is obsessed with protecting Kimberly’s virginity. (“Hey, dad, I’m post-menstrual,” says Kimberly.) Aunt Debra (Jen Adams) is a lesbian ex-convict who tries to recruit Kimberly into a check cashing scam. (At one point, Debra drags a stolen mail box into the living room.)
Finding herself a discarded bystander, Kimberly reaches out to Jeff (Matthew C. Thompson), a nerdy fellow high school student with a penchant for zany anagrams. (“Mother-in-law” becomes “Hitler woman.” “Kimberly Levaco” scrambles to “cleverly akimbo.”)
“Kimberly” is well directed by Janet Toczek. Scenes are staged with an air of respectful simplicity, as though there were nothing odd going on. The tongue-in-cheek tone carries over into the acting, where cast members are uniformly superb in their comedic understatement.
This is all very apt because these characters believe in their own normality. The show also uses modern art wall panels and jazz music between scenes to underscore that this is modern America. (Sound design, Patrick Martin; Set design, Tony Kenney and Yaga Brady.) The sly insinuation of both play and production is that the itch for self-absorbed craziness is becoming a new norm.
At first we are stupefied by this family of kooks. But we come to realize that the confusion we feel is that of Kimberly herself. It all clears up in the second act when she resolves to take action. In a play full of surprises, watching Kimberly try to grab the brass ring is the biggest one of all.
Playwright Lindsay-Abaire is not a cynic. His play “Rabbit Hole” won the Pulitzer in 2007, and without breaking his tone of absurd comedy, his unlikely heroes struggle to win redemption. Seeing Kimberly rise up to challenge her fate is strangely uplifting. You leave the theater thinking, gosh, if she can do it, maybe I can too. I am glad I saw it.
Stagecrafters is located at 8130 Germantown Ave. “Kimberly Akimbo” will run through Sept. 25. Reservations at 215-247-9913.