Now that the health-care reform bill has passed Congress, beware the stampede of tea baggers running for the hills to escape Obama's looming "death panels." Of course, the fear of one's own impending mortality can focus the mind for good or ill, and that thought is front and center in Kimberly Akimbo by David Lindsay-Abaire, now at the convergence-continuum theatre.
In a production that ripples with outstanding performances, there is one overriding element that seems missing, or at least muted. But that should not impede an audience's enjoyment of a mostly sublime ensemble performance, under the guidance of director Clyde Simon.
The central figure in this poignant yet weirdly hilarious tale is Kimberly Levaco, a 16-year-old who has a disease that causes her to age at four-and-a-half times the normal rate. Physically, this makes her about 70, which is the age those so afflicted tend to expire.
In some families, this tragic condition would be cause for much soul-searching, but not among Kimberly's kin. Her pregnant mom Pattie is a foul-mouthed snark machine who feels a lot sorrier for herself and her ailments than for her daughter. Or so it seems. And dad Buddy is a gas-station pump jockey who drinks to excess.
This all may sound somewhat familiar and predictable. But in this playwright's hands, the Levacos, along with felonious Aunt Debra and Kim's nerdy boy pal Jeff, flash to life in scenes that sparkle with spot-on dialogue and characterizations. And even though Kimberly is obviously the one facing death, it feels like every character in Lindsay-Abaire's script is doomed in one way or another.
As Pattie, Amy Bistok-Bunce is simply sublime, mining comic gold with every line and still managing to show how this deeply flawed person can express a stunted kind of affection for her daughter. Saddled with two bandaged hands (after surgery for carpal tunnel, from her job jamming cream into Ding Dong knockoffs), and later with a broken leg, Bistok-Bunce never misses a beat.
Although battling some line glitches, Tom Kondilas scores many laughs as Buddy. And his quiet moment in the car, when he speaks into a tape recorder for the benefit of his yet-to-be-born child, is affecting. Also excellent is Lauren B. Smith as Debra, who is as cuddly as a coiled fist onstage, believably intimidating Kimberly and Jeff into a con game for her own benefit. And Scott Gorbach is a stitch as gangly Jeff, an anagram-spouting Dungeons & Dragons freak.
In the linchpin role of Kimberly, the older-age appropriate Marcia Mandell nicely handles the more intense moments of this fiendishly challenging role — when the girl is very happy or quite sad. But largely absent are the more subtle notes, the quirky physical and vocal characteristics of a teenage girl that should still be visible under Kim's ever-desiccating shell.
Without enough of these markers, Kimberly herself remains partly in shadow, and we can't fully appreciate her tragedy, which is one we all share in less concentrated form. Still, this Kimberly Akimbo is a fine and funny ride.