Kimberly Akimbo, by David Lindsay-Abaire. Directed by Rob Ruggiero. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
"I am a fixture in your life."
Jessica Savage, Jessiee Datino, Debra Jo Rupp, Adam Langdon; photo: Scott Barrow
The 2016 summer season is starting off with a constant examination of the dysfunctional family. Barrington Stage Company gave us three generations of complete misunderstanding with "Presto Change-o" for example. This week we've had the barely attentive Hovick girls in "Gypsy," followed by Annie, Ruth and Ben in Alan Ayckbourn's "Table Manners." Last night six women from families that barely exist were on stage in "Win/Lose/Draw" and today we have David Lindsay-Abaire's "Kimberly Akimbo" back on the St. Germain Stage at Barrington Stage Company where it all began a month ago. Whatever happened to "I Remember Mama,"; that close-knit group used to be what most of us thought of as dysfunctional?
The new entry in the "I hate my life" sweepstakes is a comedy, top to bottom. It has the advantage of a wonderful company of players, a most talented director, a design team that has delivered a first-rate production and a script that delivers every moment with a slight bang, a taste of tang and bling. Lots of bling.
Kimberly is a teen-ager born with a rare disease that makes her age four and a half times faster than most people. Now, turning 16 and nearing her life expectancy (she looks like a mature woman who can actually pass for a grandmother) she is about to experience the wonders of her first kiss and possibly be the older sister to a new baby. Her father is not around when she needs him. Her mother is obsessed with the womb occupant. Her intruding aunt is on the lam and about to commit a major crime. Her only friend is an intellectual kid from his own dysfunctional arena. The play tells their story and it does a fine job.
The play had a reasonably short run in New York, off-Broadway, for about three months in 2003. Since then it has been seen in a great many regional theaters. I don't understand why the show was not more successful thirteen years ago, but perhaps it's because it didn't have Debra Jo Rupp playing Kimberly. I swear this actress could play anything and make it marvelous. In this outing she takes on the voice, looks and attitudes of a teenager nearing the mid-point of those years and she is so honest that I cannot believe I've seen her in a restaurant drinking wine. She brings to the role of Kimberly a tough-edged sweetness that feels perfect for the part. This is a very bright girl who discovers, in the course of the play's time-frame, some very difficult truths and she faces them head-on, squares her shoulders and moves forward into a delicious conclusion. Rupp knows how to turn on the anger when she needs it. She can also play the open charm that this girl often displays. Rupp does petulance in that capriciously youthful manner that the play needs. She also manages to be the sage creature in the room with perfect style. As she deals with her family to the best of her ability you actually feel that adopting her is the best answer to the question that faces you: what will become of Kimberly Lovaco?
As her parents Jessiee Datino is the most pregnant person I have ever seen and Chris Thorn is the most annoying father imagineable. Pattie and Buddy love Kimberly. You can see that in everything they do. They also are perplexed by her and by her obvious fate. They often treat her like the adult she appears to be while at the same time considering her as a child who needs guidance. Their form of guidance is more like a slap behing the ear, a gesture that never occurs, but verbally it happens again and again. Thorn is brilliant as Buddy. His sensitivity is remarkable as he plays the selfishness/selflessness in the character. Datino's self-obsession is hilarious and sad at the same time. She does a wonderful job playing the outer edges of Pattie's reality.
As Aunt Debra, Pattie's sister, Jessica Savage takes and hold the stage for long intervals. This company is so good together that there are no egos in view as Savage rampages through their on-stage lives. She is great fun in this part and perhaps the most real person in the play.
The boy, Jeff, as played by Adam Langdon is someone who gets things right all the time. His dialogue scenes are very natural and realistic. His laughs are well-deserved and his final moments with Kimberly are sensitive and unpretentious. He has a natural talent for playing the boy mature beyond his years.
Director Rob Ruggiero is responsible for all of this unity on stage. He has melded his cast into that family the play needs to show us. This is not your usual summer stock put-together, this is a complete package where players and play become difficult to disentangle. Ruggiero has not traffic-copped this play but has clearly taken time and effort to bring out every conceivable element of what these actors can bring to these characters. This is a comedy and there are ample laughs, but never cheap laughs. With Ruggiero overseeing the growth here the laughs are our natural reactions to the realities on the stage.
He has been amply abetted by a team of very talented designers. Timothy Mackabee's sets work like a dream. Tricia Baramian's costumes perfectly expose the inner person with each outfit she puts them in. Matt Richards has sensitively designed the lighting of this show, letting us feel the ambience that surrounds these people. Vincent Olivieri gives perfect sound effects and effective musical transitions.
I cannot imagine a better production of this show anywhere ever. If I say more than that I might be accused of being on the take so I'll just refer you back to the line above and let it go at that.
Chris Thorn and Debra Jo Rupp; photo: Scott Barrow
Kimberly Akimbo plays on the St. German Stage at Barrington Stage Company's Sydelle and Lee Blatt Performing Arts Center, located at 36 Linden Street, Pittsfield, MA through July 16. For information and tickets call the box office at 413-236-8888 or go on line to barringtonstageco.org.