Sixteen going on 70
Sometimes, teen life sucks. Just ask 16-year-old Kimberly, who gets tongue-tied around boys, whose father embarrasses her every time he opens his mouth and whose mother ignores her. Then there’s the fact that she went through menopause four years ago and often gets mistaken for the cafeteria lady.
Kimberly is a young soul trapped in an old body. She counts her birthdays in dog years, because she’s afflicted with a rare disorder that causes her to age prematurely, four-and-a-half times more quickly than normal. So, although she’s just 16, she looks like a senior citizen and has reached her life expectancy.
B Street Theatre presents Kimberly Akimbo by David Lindsay-Abaire, the playwright of the disenfranchised, dysfunctional and downright odd. B Street produced Lindsay-Abaire’s Fuddy Meers a few years ago and wanted to bring back his decidedly strange take on life. Director David Pierini said he picked Kimberly Akimbo because of the playwright’s ability “to create crazy characters that don’t float off the stage and outrageous scenarios that still have heart.”
There is heart to Kimberly Akimbo, but not the Hallmark Hall of Fame variety. At times, this coming-of-age tale teeters on sitcom silliness with its unsympathetic characters, unrealistic scenarios and crass language. But the ultimate goodness of the central character in this salty, quirky black comedy manages to tug at emotions.
Kimberly’s main problem isn’t her health. It’s familial. At the play’s beginning, her financially and morally challenged family has just moved to New Jersey under mysterious circumstances. Her father is a distant alcoholic, and her mother is a neurotic hypochondriac who’s pregnant with a “perfect” baby to replace the quickly aging Kimberly when she dies. Her aunt is one step ahead of the law, and the only adult in the house is young Kimberly. No one feels sorry for Kimberly, least of all Kimberly herself.
To succeed, the play depends on the audience’s belief in the premise of a teen trapped in an elderly body—in essence, it relies on the actress playing Kimberly. Actress Cec Levinson—who, according to Pierini, is “70-ish”—does a wonderful job of embodying adolescent awkwardness while copping the petulant teen ’tude. She sighs and sulks one minute and giggles and blushes the next.
There are a couple of remarkable scenes that capture Kimberly’s yearning for a real family and a normal life. One is a late-night game of Trouble, where her mom and aunt cease their self-centeredness for a second and her dad steals a sweet dance with his daughter. The other moments are with a fellow teen outcast. Jeff, a nerd who’s into Dungeons & Dragons, befriends Kimberly and ignites strange romantic sparks. The talented Travis Beaty gives a touching performance as the wide-eyed, gawky, geeky teen who tries to make sense of a shortened life and unconventional love. (And you’ve got to love a play where D&D brings a family together.)
Greg Alexander manages to project humanity into the hapless dad, but supporting actresses Elisabeth Nunziato and Anne-Marie Petrie are burdened with unlikable and shrill one-note characters whose actions sometimes seem eccentric for the sake of eccentricity.
As the play continues, you feel Lindsay-Abaire is trying to make a philosophical life statement, but you’re never quite sure what it is. His wonderfully layered Kimberly too often is merely a figure for the other kooky characters to pinball away from. The main focus gets muddy, but when the plot and characters don’t gel, you always have Lindsay-Abaire’s cutting, clever humor—which saves many a scene. When Kimberly dresses up as an old grandmother for a get-rich scheme, her aunt’s comment that she looks just like Rose Kennedy is both hilarious and heartbreaking at the same time.
In the end, both the playwright and Levinson’s performance leave you with an indelible image of an irrepressible Kimberly, who is starting and ending her life journey at the same time. And maybe that’s the philosophical point after all. Every day, we’re all living and dying moment by moment, some faster, some slower and some with a little more grace than others.