BWW Reviews: Mildred's Umbrella's KIMBERLY AKIMBO - Funny, Tragic Tale of American Family Dysfunction
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by David Clarke
The success of RABBIT HOLE, which won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and was adapted into a film starring Nicole Kidman, made David Lindsay-Abaire more than a blip on radars within and outside of the arts community. As a playwright, David Lindsay-Abaire is best known for writing about real people unraveling in difficult situations. His 2000 Play KIMBERLY AKIMBO, being presented by Mildred's Umbrella Theater Company lives up to this reputation, ensuring the audience laughs as much as they are devastated.
KIMBERLY AKIMBO follows a 16 year old girl suffering from a form of Progeria, a disease that causes her to age 4½ times faster than she should. When asked, "What's a couple of days," she jokingly responds, "In Kimberly time, it's about a week and a half. It's like dog years!" In addition to her bodily disease, her life is diseased as well. She lives with her mother, a pregnant hypochondriac, and her alcoholic father. Then her delusional and often homeless aunt moves into their basement and gets Kimberly and one of her school acquaintances, the ever awkward Jeff, mixed up in an illegal money scheme.
Direction by Ron Jones keeps the darkly comic play as light as possible, allowing the audience to spend much of the performance laughing. While utterly despicable, the adults in the play are genuinely realistic and ultimately likable. The family adroitly reads as white trash, and the kids come across as more level headed than the adults in their world. It is in ruminating on the themes and characters in the play that the lack of parenting, squalid living conditions, and general immaturity of the adults becomes heavy hitting and depressing. Ron Jones' direction keeps the audience masterfully engaged and leaves them longing to reflect on the play during the intermission and on the way home.
Starring as the titular character, Carolyn Houston Boone is magnificent as Kimberly Levaco. The "Akimbo" comes from an anagram of her name. She perfectly captures the youth and angst of a modern 16 year old girl. She is consistently girlish in her portrayal of Kimberly, completely impressing the audience by blushing when she shares a scene of juvenile, awkward intimacy with Ty Doran's Jeff. Carolyn Houston Boone is wholly believable as a 16 year old trapped in the fragile body of an older woman. From her opening scene, she firmly plants herself in the heart of the audience, and they love every moment of her heartrending performance.
Luke Fedell's Buddy is devastatingly realistic in portrayal. Every time he makes a misstep and hurts Kimberly's heart, he crushes the heart of the audience as well. Furthermore, Luke Fedell is powerful in his ability to command the stage, leaving his portrait of Buddy to resonate and reverberate in the heart, mind, and soul of the audience. He makes it clear how much Buddy wants to be a good father for Kimberly, but his own struggles with alcohol addiction often overpower his good intentions.
As Pattie, Jennifer Decker is hilarious and contemptible. Her ramblings into the tape recorder for her unborn child are funny and revealing, providing insight into just how deeply disturbed Pattie's mind is. She longs for a healthy baby because Kimberly was not one. Between her desires for a family that resembles perfection and her hypochondria, Jennifer Decker paints a fantastic portrait of a woman unraveled and fighting to make it through each day.
Debra, played by Kim Tobin-Lehl, is comedic and zany. Kim Tobin-Lehl plays Debra with no holds barred; she is loud, raucous and crass. Her screwball caricature is wholly enjoyable and made perfect with her use of a New Jersey accent.
As Jeff, Ty Doran is delightfully awkward. His line delivery is spot-on accurate for the nerdy 16 year he portrays.
Frankie Teuber's Set Design is wonderfully decrepit. The tacky wallpaper, which is peeling in places, and worn, dirty look of the white paint pristinely allow audiences to know just the type of family the play is about. The only misstep I feel exists in the scenic design is when the scene first shifts to the public library, it was not clear that was the location until the dialogue said it was.
Andrew Adams' Sound Design is fantastic for the space. The sound effects of wind, cars, animals, and even the muffled, muted, mechanical sound of the drive through speaker were nice additions to the performance as a whole. The selection for set change music seemed a bit awkward, but did not detract from the production. Often, it sounded happier or, at times, more mellow than one would expect to accompany this script.
Chelsea Touchet's Light Design worked well in the space and illuminated each scene wonderfully, especially when having to light small portions of the stage for scenes in the car. I was particularly fond of the green and yellow abstract shapes splashed across the set for the final scene.
Paige Wilson's Costume Design works wonderfully to convey the class of the characters presented. Also, dressing Kimberly appropriately for her age (16) was a great touch that made her character all the more believable.
When I first saw Mildred's Umbrella Theater Company put on a show, I knew that they were capable of quality work. However, the awkwardly unrealized script for LARGE ANIMAL GAMES left me befuddled and bereft, longing to see them produce a show with a script that works. My second outing to see Mildred's Umbrella in action gave me everything I wanted and then some. KIMBERLY AKIMBO is a fantastic production, where everything really seems to mesh well and work. If anything, KIMBERLY AKIMBO leaves you wanting more in a good way. With the cast and crew delivering such a quality production, it feels that the ending simply comes too soon and abruptly. I found myself enjoying the production so much that I simply wanted to know what happened next for all of the characters.
Mildred's Umbrella Theater Company's production of KIMBERLY AKIMBO runs in Studio 101 at the Spring Street Studios until December 15, 2012. For more information and tickets please visit http://mildredsumbrella.com/ or call (832) 463 – 0409.
Photos by Anthony Rathburn, courtesy of Mildred's Umbrella Theater Company.