- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 3, 2005

Kimberly Levaco (Helen Hedman) has the gangly soul of a teenager and the worn body of a grandma.

The 16-year-old heroine of David Lindsay-Abaire’s dark and unexpectedly touching play has a progeria-like disease that ages her at 4 times the normal rate. Looking on the bright side, Kimberly snarkily informs her parents that she went through menopause a few years ago, so teen pregnancy is not an issue.

Yet Kimberly has the dreams, desires and insecurities of a typical girl, and she wants to grab as much grubby life as she can in the time she has left. Her willingness to take risks and leap headlong into the future form the crux of Mr. Lindsay-Abaire’s blisteringly funny take on aging and dysfunctional families.

Miss Hedman, a seasoned actress, contributes a tour de force performance as Kimberly. Her reed-thin body seamlessly conveys the fidgety impatience of a teenager, and she somehow carries off the flower-appliqued jeans and Cat in the Hat striped sweaters with adolescent sass and naturalness. Her face tells a different story. Lightly lined and creased with care, Kimberly possesses the countenance of a crone.

However, her disdain and sarcastic remarks to her parents are pure teen. Kimberly’s parents are hyper-nightmares, self-absorbed monsters who treat their daughter as if she’s already a lost cause. Buddy (Bruce R. Nelson) is a drunk in a dead-end job who not only forgets his daughter’s 16th birthday, but stumbles in a few days later with a half-smashed cake and a board game appropriate for a grade-schooler.

Mother Pattie (Sherri L. Edelen) isn’t much better, a grasping maw of a woman enslaved by her ceaseless need for cigarettes, attention and sugary cereal. Pattie is also pregnant, although the circumstances of her condition and the family’s hurried exodus from Secaucus, N.J. are mysterious and not made completely clear until late in the second act.

The only relative who remembers Kimberly’s birthday is her aunt Debra (the brilliantly unhinged Kerri Rambow), and she’s a homeless nut case hatching wild moneymaking schemes that involve, among other things, household cleaners and a stolen U.S. mailbox. Kimberly serves as the adult in the family, putting out a “cuss jar” and making her parents pay a nickel every time they curse, which seems to be every few seconds.

Yet she yearns to be just a child, not an outcast. Her salvation comes in the geeky, anxiety-riddled form of a schoolmate, Jeff McCracken (James Flanagan), who sees, beyond the wrinkles, a girl he likes to hang out with — and, yes, maybe even kiss.

The antics of the adults are hilarious in a disturbing way, as Buddy and Pattie break new ground in crass behavior. Mr. Nelson is particularly a scream in a scene where his overprotectiveness of his daughter reaches cringing extremes as he details just how well he understands raging hormones while Kimberly and Jeff sit in utter mortification in the back seat of the car.

For all his outrageousness, there is a bruised tenderness to Mr. Nelson’s portrayal that you don’t see in the character of Patti, who is an out-and-out beast. You have to give Miss Edelen credit for going whole hog with the character, most memorably in the sequence where she goes into labor. Still, you wish there were some shred of humanity in Patti.

The teenage characters carry the show, providing warmth as well as abundant comedy. Mr. Flanagan is particularly fine as Jeff, an acrostics freak who speaks with the blustery candor of a born worrywart.

He’s nerdy but noble, coming into his own through his friendship with Kimberly. Mr. Flanagan and Miss Hedman are so natural together, smacking each other and “accidentally” bumping bodies the way teenagers do, that you forget there’s an age difference.

Despite all the excessive and frequently criminal behavior that comes before, in the final scene Kimberly and Jeff are just two youngsters out on a lark, enjoying the slightly illicit charge of being alone in a car. The weather is fine, the windows are down and with studied casualness, Jeff slings his arm around her and she rests her head on his shoulder. In this moment, they are ageless, embarking on the timorous thrills of first love.

****

WHAT: “Kimberly Akimbo” by David Lindsay-Abaire

WHERE: Rep Stage at Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia, Md.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Through Feb. 20.

TICKETS: $16 to $23

PHONE: 410/772-4900

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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