[The following review appeared in the Denver Post on May 28th.]
David Lindsay-Abaire (Pulitzer Prize 2007, Rabbit Hole) has a knack for exploring quirky and difficult subjects, revealing fresh insights into universal questions. His 2000 hit Kimberly Akimbo, now running at Vintage Theatre, is a tale of a sixteen year-old girl with a rare medical condition—"like progeria without the dwarfism"—that ages her at four and one-half times the normal rate.
The conceit provides a wonderful opportunity for a mature actress to play a teenager who should be coming of age, but is wizened and wise beyond her years. Judy Phelan-Hill, who has touched us over the years with her dry and edgy wit (often at this site of the original Avenue Theatre), brings delightful bursts of girlishness to Kimberly, a high-school septuagenarian possessing measures of heart and mind far in excess of her New Jersey working-class parents, Buddy and Patty Levaco.
|Judy Phelan-Hill as Kimberly|
On the surface, Buddy is a foul-mouthed gas station attendant who buries his ambitions nightly in beer-swigging marathons at the local bar. Granted, whatever dreams Buddy has are limited, but in Gene Kato's deftly resolved portrait, they are no less noble for their limitations, even if, sadly, Buddy lacks the wherewithal to pursue them.
Buddy's insensitivity toward Kimberly, as a kid and as a freak of nature, turns quickly to regret when he's sober, for which he compensates by promising her the moon. Kimberly's mom, Patty, is equally cruel in her own way, desperately hoping her second pregnancy will result in a "normal" child, while concocting diseases and attracting mishaps that reinforce her denial over Kimberly's impending demise.
Janelle Christie's whole-hearted embrace of Patty's eccentricities—chattering into a child's tape recorder to her unborn while hobbling around on a broken leg, her hands immobilized by a double carpal-tunnel operation, rendering her incapable of feeding herself or attending to other basic functions—fuels a zany, farcical tempo that sets the stage for the mayhem just around the corner, when Patty's sister, Deborah shows up to haunt the family once again with her jailbird antics.
As the pedal-to-the-metal, silver-tongued ex-con, Libby Rife quickly commandeers the troops: piercing Patty's delusions; reminding Buddy of a deep, dark secret; and manipulating Kimberly and her friend and fellow adolescent outcast, Jeff, into a check-kiting scam.
|Michael Hawthorne as Jeff|
and Judy Phelan-Hill and Kimberly
Michael Hawthorne is alternately shy and unflappable, reticent and daring, as the geeky Jeff, a perfect pairing with Phelan-Hill's multi-hued Kimberly. Together, Phelan-Hill and Hawthorne bring lift-off to Lindsay-Abaire's flight of imagination, as Kimberly and Jeff find salvation in a compressed future.
Director Bernie Cardell balances these bright, though occasionally over-wrought and mismatched, characterizations with Christopher Wink's efficient yet evocative scenic design, keeping the focus on the action and verbal jousting. Beneath the Vintage Theatre marquis, the ghosts of the original Avenue Theatre are having some hearty laughs.
Vintage Theatre's production of Kimberly Akimbo runs through June 14th. 303-839-1361 or www.vintagetheatre.com.