What do you get when you mix a child with an age-advancing genetic disease, an alcoholic father, a pregnant, hypochondriac mother, and a hapless criminal aunt?
In Kimberly Akimbo, produced by What If? Productions and penned by David Lindsay-Abaire (The Rabbit Hole, Good People, Fuddy Meers), a star-worthy, tight-knit ensemble cast attempts to find out.
It’s a small cast, just five actors supporting each other through two hours of stage time, but each cast member shines as a hopelessly flawed, endlessly loveable character.
There’s Buddy, played by Brian Bogstad, the father of the motley Levaco family. He’s a drunk and a promise-breaker, but also a caretaker. His wife is Pattie, the very-pregnant mom. With Pattie, actress Becca Anderson lets loose. She yells. She howls. She cries and she cusses like a sailor. Crippled by carpal tunnel syndrome and a broken leg, she’s an oddly sympathetic mix of crass humor, fear, and devastation.
Then there’s Debra, Pattie’s wayward sister. A homeless, hopeless criminal, she is, at times, the only one who’s kind to the family’s youngest member, Kimberly. As Debra, Sarah Coe goes toe-to-toe with Pattie, matching her drama with style, flare, and a pair of grungy long johns.
Anthony Massarotto plays Jeff, the nerdy high school boy sucked into the Levaco family’s chaos. Massarotto is adorably loveable in a role seemingly custom made for him.
And finally, there’s Kimberly herself. The success of the play rests on the shoulders of this girl who, thanks to a rare disease, has aged way beyond her years. Samille Basler, who’s in her 70s, takes on the role of the 16-year-old, mixing her own grace with Kimberly’s inherent awkwardness, and comes out with something that can break your heart. As Kimberly, Basler is sad. She’s lonely. She’s hopeless and vulnerable and utterly terrified. But she’s also tough, often acting as the only voice of reason in her tempestuous home. All eye-rolls and clenched fists, she’s sometimes a bundle of fury, just like any other teen.
But Kimberly Levaco isn’t an ordinary teen. Stymied by wrinkles and gray hair, not to mention a pre-intermission heart attack, she moves different, dresses different, and is different – a fact that Basler pulls off beautifully.
One element stuck out throughout the play, which takes place in the northern New Jersey town of Bogota. While all the other characters speak fluent Jersey, with their caw-fee and waw-ter, Basler as Kimberly doesn’t hide her broad Southern drawl. Compared to the Peter Griffin of Family Guy accent presented by Buddy (which wasn’t quite Jersey, but was close, and was entertaining enough that I’ll give him a pass), Kimberly not only looks different – she sounds different, too.
At first, this felt like a flaw, but as the play progressed, her accent became another piece to the puzzle that is Kimberly Levaco. She’s such an outsider in her family, she doesn’t even share their accent, and by the end, it made sense.
The costuming in the play is fabulous, adding to the craziness of the cast. While Kimberly does her best to dress young, in cowboy boots and tights, her only friend Jeff dresses far too old for his age. He dons bow ties (which are not a thing among Jersey boys) and cardigans, slacks and fancy shoes. Somehow, together, in all their awkward teenage glory, Kimberly and Jeff are sweet and lovely.
And that’s the thing with Kimberly Akimbo. It’s an irreverent portrait of a dysfunctional family, but it’s not without its sweet moments. There’s a middle-of-the-night game of Trouble, during which Pattie says, “Isn’t this nice? Playing games and chatting about the Holocaust?” Weirdly, it is nice. Later, after a rousing game of Dungeons and Dragons she adds, “Isn’t this fun? We all take pills together.” Even the most dysfunctional family can have their own version of functional moments.