Sunday, September 07, 2003

Kimberly Akimbo (Dobama)

Dobama's ‘KIMBERLY AKIMBO’ is funny but misdirected

Progeria is a rare genetic condition characterized by an appearance of accelerated aging in children. About one in 8 million newborns are born with the disease. Since it was described in 1886 about 100 cases have been identified in the world. The child, who quickly races into adulthood at about the rate of seven aging years per single real year. It affects both sexes equally and all races. Characteristics include dwarfism, baldness, a pinched nose, small face and jaw relative to head size, delayed tooth formation, aged looking skin, stiffness of joints, and cardiovascular problems.

Dobama Theatre has chosen to open its 44th season with David Lindsay-Abaire’s play ‘KIMBERLY AKIMBO’ which investigates a girl/woman going through life rapidly with Progeria. This is, you might surmise, an afternoon special, illness of the week, weepy play. Wrong! This is a comedy! Now, you are probably saying, “How can a play be funny when we see the sixteen-year-old victim near death?” Well, in the hands of Lindsay-Abaire it is possible.

The play exposes us to Kimberly Levaco and her dysfunctional family who flee one New Jersey city for another under dubious circumstances. We watch as Kimberly evaluates her life while contending with a hypochondriac mother, a rarely sober father, a scam-artist aunt, her own mortality and the possibility of first love.

On opening night the audience was convulsed in laughter for much of the play. Unfortunately, don’t confuse that with the production being well developed and performed. Part of this is an issue with director Walter Eugene Grodzik’s take on how the play should be interpreted, part is the fault of the play itself.

Grodzik seems to confuse the words “comedy” and “farce.” Rather than let the many, many funny lines develop on their own, he has directed his cast to go over the top. The constant yelling, over-acting, double-takes, and almost begging the audience to laugh, takes away from the true wit of the play. In spite of the hyper-hysterical pace and acting, some of the performers shine. Sean Fitzgerald is wonderful as the nerdy Jeff. One can only imagine how wonderful he would have been if he had been allowed to use his natural sense of timing, instead of imitating a windmill with arms flailing, and a super high-pitched voice. Paula Duesing walks the fine line between teenager and aged adult with precision. John Kolibab has a wonderful scene at the start of the second act in which his desperate, short-lived sobriety comes ringing clear. Unfortunately, in most of the play he over does it. The rest of the cast is over the edge. We laugh at the actors, not with the characters.

In Lindsay-Abaire’s defense is the fact that the author has not given the director a totally good script with which to work. Reviews of previous productions state: “The play doesn’t entirely come together as a play” and ‘KIMBERLY AKIMBO ‘is somewhat problematic and unpolished, and “The characters are broadly painted, and maybe three-quarters defined, as if Lindsay-Abaire had to cram a lot of quirkiness and exposition into the already svelte running time of 105 minutes.”

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Many audience members will find ‘KIMBERLY AKIMBO ‘ to be an evening of laughs and appreciate the fact that a severely depressing subject can be dealt with in a humorous manner without mocking the disease. On the other hand, the play and the production are not wonderful theatre.