SWEET SIXTEEN HAS A BITTER EDGE IN THE DARK COMEDY ‘KIMBERLY AKIMBO’
Before the musical Kimberly Akimbo was a still a courageous 16 year old “When life gives you lemons you got to go out and steal some apples because who the fk wants lemons”.
Review by Vince Mediaa
The Levaco’s and their 16 year old daughter are now on stage at the High Street Stage in Alameda. APH opens their celebrated 86th season of Bay Area Theatre with KIMBERLY AKIMBO now on stage only through February 25th. Written by David Lindsey and directed by Dana Anderson who says “Every character in this play is real, their experiences are real (what I love) about this play is that it doesn’t shy away from what life is truly about. Experiencing all aspects of life firsts and lasts.”
KIMBERLY AKIMBO follows a 16 year old girl dealing with 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 Pattie, a pregnant hypochondriac, and her alcoholic father Buddy. Then her delusional and often homeless aunt Debra moves into their basement and gets Kimberly and her school crush, the awkward Jeff, mixed up in an illegal money scheme.
The director Anderson keeps this dark comic story as light as possible, and the very funny lines from the cast with solid performances keeps the audience laughing. At times the despicable adults are realistic and ultimately likable and whip through some very funny dialog written by Lindsay. The family reads as white trash, and the kids come across as more level headed than the adults in their world.
Jamison Vaughn is magnificent as Kimberly Levaco.“Getting older is my affliction. Getting older is your cure” she snaps. 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 her crush Jeff. Her teen friend is played by the standout Rowen Weeramantry who is the perfect awkward teen bullied as much as his friend Kimberley. Vaughn is 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.
The riveting Peter Marietta as Buddy her father is devastatingly realistic in his portrayal. Every time he makes a misstep and hurts Kimberly's heart, he crushes the heart of the audience as well. Martetta is powerful in his ability to command the stage, leaving his portrait of Buddy to resonate in the heart, and soul of the audience. It is clear how much Buddy wants to be a good father for Kimberly, as he deals his own with alcohol addiction. As mom Pattie, the skilled Allison Gamlen is hilarious and contemptible. Her ramblings into a 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. Kimberly, who has to feed her mom her morning cereal because both her arms are in casts, is the adult by default.
The engrossing Caroline Scheider plays Debra, Buddys sister. She brings the house down as the fun-loving con artist Aunt Debra. Scheider is very entertaining as she inspires the two teens into one of her money making schemes, Debra brings life into Kimberly's angst family life.
Weeramantry is delightfully awkward as the young Jeff. His line delivery is spot-on accurate for a nerdy teen who does a class project of Kimberly’s illness. Jeff could possibly be on the spectrum but his fondness for anagrams, who looks past Kimberly's illness and offers real friendship. The two together say some of the best lines in the two act play. “When life gives you lemons you got to go out and steal some apples because who the fuck wants lemons”.
Tom Curtin's Set Design is wonderfully decrepit and simple. The tacky wallpaper, which is peeling in places. Debra points out “why does this wallpaper look like my thermos.” Props designer Vicki Kagawan filled the downstairs space for the library scenes. Daniel “techo” Debono' Sound Design is perfect for the space. Danielle Ferguson's Light Design worked well in the APH small stage, especially the pools of light for the scenes in the car.
Janice Stephenson's Costume Design works wonderfully especially on Kimbery's look that included bright colors. The parents are a bit common home clothes that match their moods. Dressing Kimberly appropriately for her age teens fit was a great touch that made her character all the more believable. Stage manager Michael Garrahan and his crew Charlotte Larsen and David Urzua keep the five member cast moving as they enter form all sides of the APH.
KIMBERLY AKIMBO is a poignant dark comedy and Anderson' direction keeps the audience masterfully engaged and leaves them longing to reflect on the play. The current musical version of this play won a Tony for best musical. David Lindsay- Abaire script is moving, very humorous and will tug on your heart. 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, yet the final scene is very freeing and soars with satisfaction for the 16 year old. Next up at the APH is the rarely staged PAL JOEY that opens March 29th. In the meantime KIMBERLY AKIMBO is a must see and be sure to anagram your name.
ALTARENA PLAYHOUSE PRESENTS
By David Lindsay-Abaire
Directed by Dana Anderson
Artistic Director: Katina Psihos Letheule
Must Close February 25th, 2024
Altarena Playhouse, 1409 High St., Alameda
Running time: 2 hours with intermission,
Tickets $35 Adult, $33 Senior, $33 for Students
8pm, Sundays 2pm. Tickets on sale now
Run time 2:00 minutes including one intermission.
Ticket Info: altarena.org
Photos by Grizzly De Haro