Kimberly Levaco is not your average, everyday teenager. After all, how many teens do you know who are saddled with an alcoholic dad, a hypochondriac mom, and a con artist of an aunt? And how many of them suffer from all of the above, plus a body that’s aging at supersonic speed? Sixteen-year-old Kimberly lives her life in the body of someone more than four times her age, someone with a life expectancy of sixteen, give or take a year or so. How many teens do you know who are saddled with that?

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire makes Kimberly the heroine of his funny, touching 2000 dramedy Kimberly Akimbo, the latest offering from The Theatricians, a company of actors whose youth turns out to be the only major strike going against an otherwise excellent production.

74926_10152082350084937_8351337_n We learn within the play’s first minutes that the 30something man arriving hours late to pick up the 60ish woman waiting for him in the New Jersey winter is not the woman’s grandson but her father, and we learn the reason for Kim’s condition only minutes later when classmate Jeff asks her permission to write about her disease for his biology class assignment. (“You know, how you look old and everything but really you’re not?”)

And it doesn’t take long for us to realize that fragile health and premature aging are only one part of the Kimberly’s not-so-perfect life. Pregnant mom Pattie is not only recovering from a broken leg and carpal tunnel surgery on her hands, she’s convinced she’s got both cancer and diabetes. (It’s no wonder she smokes.)

Dad works days at the local Chevron Station before heading off nightly for “a few beers,” the better to postpone going home to a nagging wife and a daughter who may not be around all that much longer.

To further complicate things around the Levaco home, who should show up at the library where Kimberly and Jeff are studying but Kim’s wayward Aunt Debra, garbage bag in hand and fresh from a few months of living in a squat, if fresh can describe a woman who’s turned tricks, done time in jail, and now calls the public library her home.

Having convinced Pattie to let her crash under the Levaco roof for a while, Debra soon reveals to Kimberly her real reason for the family visit (and for the two large bottles of chemicals and the full-sized U.S. Postal Service mailbox she’s dragged down into the Levaco basement). She’s concocted a foolproof money-making scam, and all she needs is Kim’s help to pull it off.

1069274_10152082355559937_470261272_n Audiences familiar only with playwright Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Rabbit Hole and the more recent Tony-nominated Good People may be surprised to discover him in his decidedly quirkier early period, one which brought us Fuddy Meers, Wonder Of The World, and Kimberly Akimbo.

Still, quirky or not, Dad, Mom, and Aunt Debra are undeniably human, as is geeky teen Jeff and most of all Kimberly, whom the marvelous Dorrie Braun never lets us forget is a sixteen-year-old high school girl who’s living her life the best she can (and thoroughly enjoying the attention she’s being paid by the socially awkward but entirely first-kissable Jeff).

The geeky object of Kimberly’s affection is brought to rich, three-dimensional life by an absolutely engaging Rudy Martinez, whose understudy turn in last fall’s Edith Can Shoot Things And Hit Them proved as memorable as any “regularly scheduled” performance of the season.

1016408_10152082358719937_1774856862_n 20something Martinez easily passes as teenage Ricky and Braun is perfectly cast as Kimberly. It’s harder to buy Josh Heisler, who reads late 20s, as the father of a 16-year-old. Considerably more disbelief must be suspended in the case of Amy Gummenick’s Pattie, who would by all appearances have given birth to Kim as a pre-teen, and as for Jessie Sherman’s Debra, it would not be surprising if audience members assumed her to be one of Kim and Jeff’s high school friends instead of an ex-con in her early thirties.

This age-inappropriate casting is what Kim would doubtless call “a bummer,” because all three are absolutely wonderful. Heisler captures all of Buddy’s blue collar coarseness as well as the fatherly heart that lurks beneath. Gummenick does powerhouse work as the foul-mouthed, hypochondria-plagued Pattie. Best of all is Sherman’s high-voltage performance as Debra, a train wreck of woman that you can’t take your eyes off of.

Age-blind casting works in student productions where actors are expected to play from sixteen to sixty … and older. Since The Theatricians are a professional company, Kimberly Akimbo might better have been passed over in favor of a play with younger characters.

Still, make no mistake, this is a terrifically acted production directed with assurance and sensitivity by Tracy Woodward, and one whose design elements prove that with imagination and flair, you don’t need a gazillion-dollar budget to make professional-looking (and sounding) theater.

Madison Orgill’s scenic design is particularly impressive. Not only is the Levaco kitchen artfully rendered, Orgill finds ingenious ways of converting it into both a library and Kimberly’s bedroom, and the Levaco family car comes as a particularly clever surprise. Stage manager Lauren Jenna Woods’ lighting design is effective too, albeit a bit dim for certain scenes. Gummenick’s costumes are a nice “fit” for Lindsay-Abaire’s characters with the exception of Debra’s outfits, which along with her hairdo make her look more like a punk rocker than the ex-hooker/jailbird we’re told Debra is. No program credit is given for Kimberly Akimbo’s sound design, but it is as good as it gets, from mood-setting music to various well-timed effects.

Kimberly Akimbo provides ample proof that The Theatricians are an L.A. theater troupe to watch. All that’s needed is greater care in choosing material that fits its talented members to a T.

Studio/Stage, 520 North Western Ave., Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
July 25, 2013

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