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Time Warped

Rep Stage Masters the Rapid-Fire Story of a Girl Ahead of Her Time

AGE AIN'T NOTHIN' BUT A NUMBER: (from left) Sherri Edelen and Helen Hedman grow old together in Kimberly Akimbo.

By John Barry | Posted 2/2/2005

Kimberly Akimbo

By David Lindsay-Abaire

At Rep Stage through Feb. 20

The weird world of Kimberly Akimbo is familiar territory for anyone who’s seen David Lindsay-Abaire’s earlier hit, Fuddy Meers. Take one dysfunctional family, one degenerative disease, mix them together, and a lot can happen. The plot lines seem to reproduce to the point where, instead of four characters, we come up with four plots. So, if you take Lindsay-Abaire’s sharp ear and quick wit for granted—and it’s hard not to—the Rep Stage is left with the challenge of packaging this somewhat chaotic, sometimes brilliant mix into a coherent play.

Much of the credit for the success of this production belongs to Milagros Ponce De Leon’s set. Constructed in three large sections, it transforms into a kitchen, a school library, a girl’s bedroom, a snow-covered road, and a free-range safari. The drawback is that, for much of the play, the actors and crew are running around rearranging the stage. But the labyrinthine effect hits the right chord. In this rapidly shifting environment time flies, but no one seems to be getting anywhere.

Kimberly Akimbo operates in this time zone, where things are speeding up so quickly that it’s difficult to get a moment’s peace. Kimberly Levaco (Helen Hedman) is a girl with progeria, a rare disease that ages people at about four times the usual rate. Or, as Kimberly puts it, she measures her life in dog years. It’s also her 16th birthday, an inauspicious occasion since that’s the average life expectancy for people with the disease.

Both Kimberly’s parents are cheerfully oblivious of her predicament. Kimberly’s father, Buddy (Bruce Nelson), is a pudgy, likable alcoholic. Her mother, Pattie (Sherri Edelen), is a full-blown hypochondriac pregnant with their second child. Aunt Debra (Kerri Rambow) is an itinerant nut who spends her time trying to concoct check-washing schemes. Kimberly’s mom and dad are so frantically preparing for the birth of their second child that they forget their first child’s birthday. Pattie is reading messages to her expected daughter in an old-school cassette recorder, and Buddy is either out drinking or timing his wife’s contractions.

That’s enough conflict for several plays. Then Jeff McCracken (James Flanagan) arrives on the scene. He’s a classmate of Kimberly’s with a geeky affinity for anagrams and Dungeons and Dragons. He meets her while writing a report on her disease for a school paper. Then he becomes her first—and, it appears, last—boyfriend.

So it goes. That places a lot on the shoulders of the actress playing Kimberly, but Hedman deftly manages to lift her character above the confusion. She’s quirky without descending into weirdness—a feat, considering that she’s a 16-year-old with a 75-year-old body. And when she dresses briefly in her 75-year-old’s costume, it becomes clear how precisely Hedman has combined the two ages into one character.

Flanagan as Jeff McCracken is a good match, playing Kimberly’s boyfriend with a sly, understated geekiness. He approaches her with a straightforward curiosity that makes their tentative romance plausible. Nelson and Edelen make an appealing pair as well—at least to the extent that an alcoholic and a hypochondriac can. Nelson seems a little spineless at first—especially for a blue-collar dad—but that’s because his character is spineless, as we soon find out. And, while emotionally, at least, Pattie is the real freak of nature in this play, Edelen softens the hard edges of her character. As Debra, Kerri Rambow has less to work with. Debra enters as an enigma and leaves as one, without rising above the level of plot device.

Finally, among all the hyperspeed delivery of lines and whirling set, there’s the firm directorial hand of Kasi Campbell, who keeps the characters from running around onstage like beheaded chickens. The very hesitant movements toward emotional honesty in Kimberly Akimbo is what brings most of the characters together, and Campbell lets us feel the electricity of their gestures without shocking us.

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