note: entire contents copyright 2015 by Sheila Barth
Prolific 45-year-old playwright-lyricist-screen writer David Lindsay-Abaire has a literary golden touch. He gathers fame and satisfied audiences like farmers having a field day at harvest-time.
Lindsay-Abaire, whose roots are planted in South Boston and currently lives in Brooklyn, NY, won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2007 for his play, “Rabbit Hole,” and several Tony Award nominations. He wrote the book and lyrics for Broadway’s monstrous hit, “Shrek the Musical,” (currently appearing in Boston at Wheelock Family Theatre); the book for hit musical, “High Fidelity;” and popular 2011 Broadway play, “Good People,” about South Boston residents.
In “Kimberly Akimbo,” his quirky, dark play about a highly dysfunctional family and a 16-year-old girl stricken with a tragic, genetic, aging disorder, Lindsay-Abaire doesn’t concentrate on the teen’s approaching demise. He doesn’t explore complex medical details.
Instead, he presents an insider’s view of young heroine Kimberly Lebaco’s life with Buddy, her alcoholic, irresponsible, suppressed, loving father; Pattie, her self-indulgent, selfish mother who’s very pregnant and accident prone; Aunt Debra, who’s street-smart, with criminal proclivities; and Jeff, Kimberly’s newfound, nerdy boyfriend, who finds love, excitement and an escape together.
Jeff’s family life isn’t much better than Kimberly’s. His mother died, his father ignores him, his brother is in rehab,and Jeff’s a loner at school. He works at a burger joint, likes playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, and solving anagrams.
This terrific cast and Moonbox Productions Director Allison Olivia Choat punctuate this play’s quirky, quixotic humor and irony with sledgehammer and subtle actions. Award-winning actress Sheriden Thomas (who directs, teaches acting and is a senior lecturer at Tufts University) is amazing as Kimberly, whose deadly disease doesn’t diminish her spunk or spirit. Although her life expectancy is 16, and that milestone birthday just passed - mostly ignored - Kimberly forges on. She’s the only reliable adult in this sordid pack. Kimberly’s dad, Buddy, (impressive 6-foot-8-inch Andrew Winson) roars like a wounded lion and cringes with guilt over his late-night drinking bouts and escapism, promising to go on the wagon. “I’m a good guy,” he laments, to empty air.
Michah Greene portraying Kimberly’s grating, aggravating mother, Pattie, is irritating enough to inspire throwing squishy tomatoes at her.
This oddball family has an underlying secret that made them flee their home in Secaucus, NJ, to Bogota, NJ.
Watching Sheriden Thomas interact with gangly teen Lucas Cardona (Jeff), their friendship mounting into romance, is startling; yet, there’s something sweet, not appalling, about the pair, especially their first kiss. Irrepressible Shana Dirik is a hoot as Kimberly’s just-released from prison Aunt Debra. She skulks around, plotting her next crime, pulling Kimberly and Jeff into her scheme. She insists they won’t get jail time because they’re juveniles, and the three will rake in lots of money. That’ll get her to Miami and easy living, she says, adding she’ll never bother them again. Debra sneaks around corners, steals and schleps a mailbox (“That’s a federal offense,” Kimberly exclaims), insisting her check-washing scheme is failproof. The ending is much more gratifying.
Yes, the play could be shortened and tightened. Yes, some of the screaming matches could be cut. but with Jeffrey Salzberg’s lighting, Joel Abbott’s sounds, and John Paul Devlin’s compact, cluttered set, nobody’s complaining.
While laughing at their foibles, and thinking about the wackos we’ve encountered, we’re more keenly aware of heroes among us, like Kimberly. They make the best out of the lousy hand they’ve been dealt, and put whiners and complainers to shame.
BOX INFO: Two-act coming of age dark family comedy, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright-Boston native David Lindsay-Abaire, appearing with Moonbox Productions through April 25, at the Boston Center for the Arts Plaza Theatre, 539 Tremont St., South End, Boston. Performances: Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday,Saturday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, Sunday matinee, 2 p.m. Tickets, $35/$30; student rush a half-hour before performance, $15. Call 617-933-8600 or visit bostontheatrescene.com.