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San Francisco by Richard Connema

A Madcap and Moving Production of Kimberly Akimbo

Also see Richard's reviews of Blue/Orange and The People's Temple

San Francisco Playhouse is presenting David Lindsay-Abaire's wacky Kimberly Akimbo through May 21st. The New York Times called it "The Comedy of the Year" when it opened at the Manhattan Theatre Club in February 2003. The Times critic continued by calling it "a haunting and hilarious new play ... at once a shrewd satire, a black comedy and a heartbreaking study of how time wounds everyone". The comedy world premiere had taken place at the South Coast Playhouse on April 6, 2001 with Marylouise Burke playing the 16-year-old Kimberly who has the body of a 60-year-old woman. Burke went to New York with the play where she received raved reviews. Ana Gasteyer, recently in the film Reefer Madness, played the dyke scam artist Aunt Debra.

Kent Nicholson is helming a snappy production of this way-out comedy with veteran actress Joy Carlin taking over the title role. The playwright, who wrote the wild and wonderful Fuddy Meers and Wonder of the World, presents one of the most dysfunctional families you will every see on stage. As Kimberly herself says to her family, "You're all freaks." She is so right in her estimation of her mother, father and strange aunt who loves to be involved in criminal activities. In fact, it turns out that Kimberly is the only normal person - even with a body of an aging woman. The play is less harshly off the wall than the playwright's prior works.

Kimberly has a very rare disease that causes her body to age at an exponentially advanced rate, making this high school girl look sixty. Kimberley has even gone through menopause four years prior. Sadly, sixteen is the average life expectancy for persons with this illness. Kimberly has just celebrated her sixteenth birthday and her parents have forgotten all about that fact. They have very little affection for her. The play is built more on character and dialogue than on plot and action, with a zany caper plot twist involving the U.S. Postal Service.

Kimberly's sad sack mother Pattie (Susi Damilano) is a hypochondriac who is pregnant and has a broken leg plus both hands and wrists in casts due to carpal tunnel syndrome. She carries around a tape recorder that she speaks into so the baby can later hear that the mother was not crazy. The father Buddy (Clive Worsley), a Chevron gas station attendant, is something of a drunk and comes home late every night stinking of beer and gasoline. He admits he is not really a good father since he has been promising to take Kimberly to Six Flags or the Wild Animal Park in New Jersey for a very long time.

Unfortunately, Aunt Debra has found the family and she reenters their life as a con artist with an aggressive personality, intimidating everyone around her. Rounding out this weird cast of characters is 17-year-old nerdish Jeff. The geeky, anagram-loving boy, who is into Dudgeons and Dragons, is smitten with Kimberly. The characters are completely over the top in this one hour and 45 minute comedy that borders on farce.

Kimberly Akimbo is beautifully scripted and a fascinating trip through the family life of our heroine. The writing contains humor, poignancy, friendship, love, and the idea of making each moment of life count. There is nary a dull moment in the play, with maybe the exception of the last scene of the first act when they the whole family is playing the Dudgeons and Dragon game (it might help if you know what the game is all about).

Joy Carlin (a Bay Area favorite actor/director) plays Kimberly with an agreeably spontaneous ease. She is able to express that she is going through adolescence emotionally while having an elderly person's body. She slowly becomes more in control of her emotions as the play progresses, with some wonderfully poignant scenes in the second act. Susi Damilano as the loudmouth and foulmouthed mother from hell gives a great over the top performance. She is hilarious in many scenes, especially when her water breaks and she screams with a voice that could fill Radio City Music Hall. One notices that, as the Kimberly is growing more adult, her mother is regressing into a spoiled child. The balancing of the characters is excellent.

Clive Worsley gives a nice performance as the often intoxicated Buddy who wants to be a good father but keeps faltering over his own flaws and deficiencies. Deb Fink comes in like gang busters as the con artist Aunt Debra. She is exceedingly loud and over-aggressive; a little of her goes a long way. This is not a person but a cartoon character. The role is more like a sketch on a late night comedy program.

Special attention should be given to 17-year-old Jeremy Kahn as Jeff. As a high school senior and member of A.C.T.'s Young Conservatory, he is extremely talented. Jeremy is completely professional in the role of the boyfriend who finally gets to kiss Kimberly. The young lad plays the role somewhat like Matthew Broderick as Ferris Bueller, with similar voice inflections.

Kent Nicholson keeps the play moving rapidly with the last scene almost something out of Harold and Maude and a sweet ending to the play. Set Design by Artistic Director Bill English is interesting, with slanted wooden painted panels that are moved around to give an almost cartoon feeling.

Kimberly Akimbo plays at SF Playhouse, 536 Sutter Street, San Francisco through May 21. For tickets please call box office at 415-677-9596 or email reservations@sfplayhouse.org The company's last production of the season will be Yasmina Reza's Art, running June 9 through July 30.


- Richard Connema



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