Boston Theatre Works is one of several excellent companies in town part of whose mission is to present contemporary works following the playwright's intentions. Their final season effort, Southie-born David Lindsay-Abaire's second hit comedy, "Kimberly Akimbo" was a fitting finale to an interesting season that began last fall with an intimate "Antony and Cleopatra" , which won glamourous Anne Gottlieb a Best Actress IRNE. Artistic Director Jason Southerland, who helmed this production, found an equally fascinating local actress, the mercurical Judith McIntrye, for "Kimberly Akimbo"'s title role. McIntyre, last seen in "The Gigolo Confessions...", this time played a 16 year old suffering from premature aging which makes her physically about 70. Those whose only experience of Lindsay -Abaire is the regularly produced "Fuddy Meers" probably find this newer play closer to reality. This time his parallel universe is right next door--or at least in New Jersey.
The show opened on Caleb Wertenbaker's almost cartoonish set with the heroine bundled up in bright winter gear waiting in the cold. When Marc Carver playing her father Buddy, arrived two hours late and a bit drunk to pick her up, the dysfunctional nature of Kimberley's family began to unfold. Shortly thereafter, when they finally got home to her pregnant hypochondriac mother, Pattie, played by Ann Barry, who's hands are both bound up from a recent carpal tunnel operation, everyone's syndromes was in full sway, with doomed Kimberly--just a teenager-- the sanest of the lot. McIntyre found a physical characterization which is perfect for the role. This aging girl was believable when interacting with teenage Jeff. Jacob Liberman who played her nerdy classmate and incipient boy-friend working at the local ZippiBurger, simply perfect in his role, hardly seemed to be acting at all. Watch for this kid; he's a veteran of the Wheelock Family Theatre. The fifth character in the piece, Kim's homeless Aunt Debra, sprightly done by Elizabeth Anne Quincy, created most of the plot's complications, without quite enough support from the playwright. But Quincy bounced through the piece successfully, an indigent Peter Pan with more than a few secrets.
Set changes, as the cast rearranges ingenious furniture units, would have been less distracting if accompanied by more music and style. Fay Gerbes' soundscape was fine as far as it goes, but the production could have used even more. Wertenbaker's lighting was expressive, but also could have gone further to support the cast's first rate ensemble effort. Gail Astrid Buckley's costumes, however, couldn't have been better; from Kimberly's teen wardrobe and eeriy transformation into a little old lady to her Mom's voluminous bathrobe, her Dad's pump-jockey work clothes, and Aunt Debra's layered street ware, including that character's Miami bound ensemble. Wertenbaker's flip-around wall units, well-used in Market Theater productions two seasons ago, were equally successful here.
The deeper implications of this dark comedy didn't get short shrift either. Playing mostly in the moment, this fine ensemble cast unfolded the layers of Lindsay-Abaire's exploration into birth and death, sending the unlikely young lovers off into an uncertain sunset, possibly pursued by an angry hippopotamus. The fragility of human existence was clear in every scene. Normal Jeff, ignored by his father, has a brother in rehab; expectant Mom is sure she has cancer and will die before her doomed daughter; the family collects jars of change fining themselves in a futile attempt to stop swearing. But with unwittingly help from nefarious Debra, Kimberly's life goes on, at least for a brief and unseeable future. You can't ask much more from a contemporary comedy.
Both "Fuddy Meers" and "Kimberly Akimbo" are currently in development as highly reputable film projects. While it's hard to deny any playwright such remuneration, both plays succeed largely through a collision between the real and the bizarre acted out right there, in front of a live audience. Unlikely realism may be too easy on screen, especially with Sarah Jessica Parker announced as the heroine in "Fuddy Meers". Fortunately, both scripts will probably continue to be produced onstage, along with the recent "Wonder of the World" seen at the Manhattan Theatre Club, which some group ought to be considering for Boston next season. Or perhaps it's time for a bill combining several of Lindsay-Abaire's shorter works. Maybe the author will even set a new work in Boston, and consider the Alice-in-Wonderland world of the Big Dig and related construction as it effects his old neighborhood.
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