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.


TRAVIS MICHAEL HOLDER teaches acting and theatre/film history at the New York Film Academy’s west coast campus at Universal Studios. He has been writing about LA theatre since 1987, including 12 years for BackStage, a 23-year tenure as Theatre Editor for Entertainment Today, and currently for ArtsInLA.com. As an actor, he received the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Best Actor Award as Kenneth Halliwell in the west coast premiere of Nasty Little Secrets at Theatre/Theater and he has also been honored with a Drama-Logue Award as Lennie in Of Mice and Men at the Egyptian Arena, four Maddy Awards, a ReviewPlays.com Award, both NAACP and GLAAD Award nominations, and six acting nominations from LA Weekly. Regionally, he won the Inland Theatre League Award as Ken Talley in Fifth of July; three awards for his direction and performance as Dr. Dysart in Equus; was up for Washington, DC’s Helen Hayes honors as Oscar Wilde in the world premiere of Oscar & Speranza; toured as Amos “Mr. Cellophane” Hart in Chicago; and he has traveled three times to New Orleans for the annual Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, opening the fest in 2003 as Williams himself in Lament for the Moths and since returning to appear in An Ode to Tennessee and opposite Karen Kondazian as A Witch and a Bitch. Never one to suffer from typecasting, Travis’ most recent LA performance, as Rodney in The Katrina Comedy Fest, netted the cast a Best Ensemble Sage Award from ArtsInLA. He has also been seen as Wynchell in the world premiere of Moby Pomerance’s The Good Book of Pedantry and Wonder and Frank in Charles Mee’s Summertime at The Boston Court Performing Arts Center, Giuseppe “The Florist” Givola in Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui for Classical Theatre Lab, Ftatateeta in Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra at the Lillian, Cheswick in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at the Rubicon in Ventura, Pete Dye in the world premiere of Stranger at the Bootleg (LA Weekly Award nomination), Shelly Levene in Glengarry Glen Ross at the Egyptian Arena, the Witch of Capri in Williams’ The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore at the Fountain, and Dr. Van Helsing in The House of Besarab at the Hollywood American Legion Theatre. As a writer, he has also been a frequent contributor to several national magazines and five of his plays have been produced in LA. His first, Surprise Surprise, for which he wrote the screenplay with director Jerry Turner, became a feature film with Travis playing opposite John Brotherton, Luke Eberl, Deborah Shelton and Mary Jo Catlett. His first novel, Waiting for Walk, was completed in 2005, put in a desk drawer, and the ever-slothful, ever-deluded, ever-entitled Travis can’t figure out why no one has magically found it yet and published the goddam thing. www.travismichaelholder.com