Akimbo another triumph for Paper Lantern

by Keith Barber

Despite its unnerving portrayal of a highly dysfunctional family in suburban New Jersey, the Paper Lantern Theatre Company’s production of David Lindsay-Abaire’s Kimberly Akimbo proves to be an accurate depiction of family dynamics and a joy to watch. The dialogue between the main characters is circular, argumentative and downright hostile at times, but Lindsay- Abaire’s brilliance shines through in the way he finds dark humor and a glimmer of hope in life’s most hopeless situations.

The play represents the third production for the Paper Lantern Theatre Company, which was founded last year by seven local artists including Kimberly Akimbo director Amy da Luz, Beth Ritson, Miranda Lowder, Star Lee, Miriam Davie, Sheila Duell and Sarah Barnhardt. And much like its productions of Dead Man’s Cell Phone and The Laramie Project: 10 years later, Kimberly Akimbo proves to be yet another triumph for the upstart theatre company.

The stated mission of Paper Lantern is to provide artists and audiences “an opportunity to grow through creation, collaboration and risk,” and its production of Kimberly lives up to those lofty ideals. Lindsay- Abaire’s dark comedy would typically have a difficult time finding an audience, much less a theatre company with the courage to undertake the daunting task of staging his offbeat story of a family slowly falling apart.

Paper Lantern took the risk, and the audience is the primary beneficiary. Da Luz and her talented cast tell a fantastic story of a 16-year-old girl (Kimberly) with a rare disease that makes her age 4-1/2 times faster than normal people with scintillating performances, intimate staging and intelligent lighting and sound design.

The play opens with Kimberly, played with authentic innocence by Sharon Andrews, waiting outside the ice skating rink for her rarely sober father, Buddy. From the moment Tim Austin (Buddy) stumbles onto the stage, the audience is captivated. Austin brings a sincerity to the role of Buddy that makes his character at once unsavory and sympathetic.

The entire ensemble of talented actors creates three-dimensional characters that never fully realize an arc of transformation, except for

Kimberly. The beauty of the play is that it is such an unconventional story, but so devastatingly accurate at the same time.

It’s as if Lindsay-Abaire placed a video camera inside a typical suburban New Jersey home and left it running for 24 hours and then later, transcribed the dialogue between family members.

Heidi McIver does a marvelous job playing Kimberly’s mother, Pattie. A drama queen who must be the center of attention, Pattie speaks of taking thorazine — an antipsychotic medication — despite the fact she’s eight months pregnant. Kimberly is close to her aunt, Debra, but even that relationship reveals itself to be toxic. Debra reappears in Kimberly’s life, but the joyous reunion is short-lived after she attempts to cajole her 16-year-old niece into being an accomplice in her checkwashing scheme.

After Buddy drives Kimberly home from the skating rink, they discover Pattie recording messages to her unborn baby, Carmelita. The tape recorder becomes a powerful narrative device in Kimberly Akimbo as Buddy and Kimberly eventually record their own private messages to Carmelita. Aunt Debra’s reappearance brings dark family secrets to the surface, and gives Kimberly the insight she needs to move forward with her life.

Kimberly convinces her classmate, Jeff, played with aplomb by Chris Raddatz, to join her in the check-washing caper. Little does Kim’s family realize that she has her own plans for the money. In the final confrontation scene, the sparks fly and the performances hit their high-water mark. The audience is left feeling a bit uncomfortable yet completed satisfied. The success of “Kimberly Akimbo” is a credit to da Luz’s talents as a director and Paper Lantern’s great gift to the local theatre community.

wanna go?

Kimberly Akimbo June 16-19 Winston-Salem Theatre Alliance 1047 Northwest Blvd. at 8 p.m. The final performance will be June 20 at 2 p.m

Star Lee (left), who plays the role of Debra in the Paper Lantern Theatre Company’s production Kimberly Akimbo, rehearses with assistant director Miranda Lowder on May 21. The play, penned by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, is currently running at Winston-Salem Theatre Alliance through June 20. (photo by Keith T. Barber)