Stagecrafters Births Striking Talent with KIMBERLY AKIMBO

by Paul Recupero

(from L) Matthew C. Thompson, Sonya Aiko Hearn, (rear) Nancy Bennett, (front) Jen Adams in a scene from The Stagecrafters' KIMBERLY AKIMBO, running in Chestnut Hill, PA through September 25. (Photo credit: Sara Stewart)

Sixteen-year-old Kimberly Levaco is mature for her age…literally. She suffers from a rare physiological condition that causes her body to age four and a half times the normal rate. As a result, at sixteen, Kimberly possesses the frail figure of a seventy-year-old woman, although retaining her youthful mentality. It’s this amusingly bizarre concept upon which the first production of Stagecrafters’ current season, KIMBERLY AKIMBO, is based.

The play, penned by David Lindsay-Abaire (of RABBIT HOLE fame), features an unconventional spin on the familiar notion of teenage alienation. Kimberly’s self-involved and mostly absent parents are more focused on their forthcoming second child than Kimberly, who, due to her condition, may very well be deceased by the time her sibling is born. Lindsay-Abaire’s smart script juxtaposes tragedy with comedy but keeps things mostly light overall.

I’ve seen several productions at Stagecrafters and have been repeatedly impressed with the level of talent displayed on stage. KIMBERLY AKIMBO is perhaps the best example of this, as director Jane Toczek has cast the show perfectly. Sonya Aiko Hearn tackles the difficult main role with acclaim, creating a very believable angst-ridden schoolgirl without succumbing to the usual stereotypes. By apt use of body language and facial expressions, she eases the audience into buying the show’s premise. Michael Fallon as her alcoholic father, Nancy Bennett as her hypochondriac mother, and Jen Adams as her aunt from the wrong side of the law bring to life similarly well-developed, humorous and enrapturing characters.

Particularly impressive is Matthew C. Thompson as Kimberly’s classmate and love interest, Jeff. Thompson crafts an hilariously quirky character, emphasized with comical vocal and physical elements, without crossing the line into overacting or pandering for laughs. As expected, Kimberly’s disorder makes her an outcast at school. Jeff, who works at a fast-food joint and spends his free time coming up with unusual anagrams and playing Dungeons & Dragons, is also a social persona non grata. Through their mutual isolation, the two bond in a surprisingly touching way.

Sonya Aiko Hearn and Matthew C. Thompson star in KIMBERLY AKIMBO at The Stagecrafters in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia through September 25. (Photo credit: Sara Stewart)

I did have a couple nitpicks. At times, Hearn fell into the habit of pausing for effect before many of her lines, which slowed the pace of the show somewhat. I’m of the camp that believes that too many pauses dilute the impact of the really important silences. Also, while the staging worked overall, there were a few instances where the blocking felt a little stilted; the last scene between Kimberly and her parents comes to mind.

The lighting and sound, designed by Gilbert Todd and Patrick Martin, respectively, were solid throughout. I especially enjoyed the befitting costumes (no pun intended) designed by Joan Blake and Janet Gilmore, which added appropriate flair to each character’s personality.

Those seeking to experience professional-caliber theatre at a bargain price are urged to visit Chestnut Hill this month before this absorbing production runs its life cycle.

by David Lindsay-Abaire
Directed by Jane Toczek
September 9-25, 2011
The Stagecrafters Theater
8130 Germantown Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19118
(215) 247-9913

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