RANDOM BREEZES OF HOPE
KIMBERLY AKIMBO AT VICTORY THEATRE CENTER
David Lindsay-Abaire takes us on another bizarrely inappropriate detour into the Jerry Springer challenge to the American dream in Kimberly Akimbo, for which he received the LADCC Award for Playwrighting in its premiere at South Coast Rep in 2001. Now, after an exceptional amount of praise and vilification generated from the enormous success of his Fuddy Meers, the Tony-nominated Rabbit Hole (third in my TicketHolder Awards Top Ten Productions in LA last year at the Geffen), and my favorite, Wonder of the World, that 16-year-old menopausal heroine Kimberly Levaco bobs back into LA.
The play concerns the insular world of a typical suburban nuclear family crashing through life. Kimberly (Judy Jean Burns) is a gawky teenager dressed in costumer Dawn DeWitt’s Britney Spears-inspired finery, normal except for a rare genetic condition accelerating the aging process four-and-a-half times, leaving her with the appearance of a woman resolutely into her AARP years. More disturbing, it’s the day of Kimberly’s 16th birthday, which her parents have forgotten, and the life expectancy of those afflicted with her ailment is 16.
Not that her family seems to care. Her pregnant mother Pattie (Kathleen Bailey), with bandaged hands from surgery after acquiring carpal tunnel through years spent squeezing cream filling into pastries, is convinced she’s dying of cancer, and dad Buddy (Joe O’Connor) breaks every promise, ending up “face down in a bowl of peanuts somewhere” each night after his shift in a gas station kiosk. Kimberly has allies in her homeless ex-con druggy Aunt Debra (Sharon Johnston), who sleeps and gives handjobs in the public library, and moonstruck classmate Jeff (Patrick Rogers), who sees a beautiful young girl despite the fact that Kimberly looks like Margo when they took her out of Shangri-La. Still, both have their own agendas: Debra using her niece in a scheme to cash stolen checks and Jeff because she’s the first person who doesn’t recognize his position as the school’s resident nerd.
Director Maria Gobetti possesses the quintessential offbeat sense of humor to understand and enhance the quirkiness of this darkly rich material and, since she’s directed all but one of these performers in several other highly successful productions at the Victory, it’s fairly easy to see how pleased actors are to work with her. No one could have been better chosen to interpret Lindsay-Abaire; it’s a match made in Dysfunctional Cracker Family Play Heaven.
Berns is indelible, finding not only the youth and latent valleygirlisms of the doomed title character, but gently suggesting the heartache Kimberly chokes down on a daily basis is more of a consequence of her parents having given up on her and less because of Kimberly’s being victimized by her disease. Thankfully, working alongside Bailey has become a habit for Berns and, this time out, their collaboration offers a new challenge: the delicious theatrical conceit that Bailey is playing Berns’ mother and the camaraderie between them is here ingeniously reinvented.
O’Connor and Johnston play their wildly exaggerated roles with simplicity and conviction, blessed with the world-class directorial eye and infinite patience of Gobetti to help each find touchingly gossamer moments of poignant humanity. Rogers is a breathtakingly facile young comedian with a guaranteed future if the theatrical gods are anywhere around to combat those nasty demons out to screw with the fragile lives of too-youthful character actors.
Above everything making Kimberly Akimbo special is the fascinatingly askew vision of Lindsay-Abaire, who takes on the eternal subject of family and finds a way to meld his goofy humor with a modernday Ibsen or Miller-esque exploration into the heart of what is subtly but systematically destroying our species. His insight is finding some random breezes of hope to filter into what seems to be a bleak future for our screwed-up society, one overpowered by so much media hype and skewed politics that we all tend to overlook what is most important in our lives: each other.
The Victory Theatre Center is located at 3326 W. Victory Bl., Burbank; for tickets, call (818) 841-5421.