By David Lindsay-Abaire. Dir. Shade Murray. With Roslyn Alexander, Jen Engstrom, Steve Haggard. A Red Orchid Theatre.
Of the new American playwrights to emerge in the last decade, Lindsay-Abaire's work is among the most likely to get botched. A nihilistic screwball-savant, Lindsay-Abaire (Fuddy Meers) creates tart, grotesque landscapes inhabited by creatures who rarely notice the strangeness around them. His funny-but-serious, serious-but-funny scenarios are like seven-minute icing; a moment too much or too little and it's all over. Kimberly Akimbo is a prime example. A production that's only 85 percent perfect—like this one—is still just barely enough. Lindsay-Abaire's tale of a 16-year-old who suffers from a disease that ages her at four-and-a-half times the normal rate ("It's like dog years," she laments) invites comic overindulgence and messy dramatics. Murray's production avoids both, but on opening night still seemed slightly unsure of itself.
The script is in safe hands at A Red Orchid, a company with no shortage of unhinged actors, and has a spot-on ingenue in Alexander, the elegant elder who flavors the title role of an off-kilter teeny bopper with plenty of piss and vinegar. Of the conversely childlike adults in Kimberly's life (her mom's a pregnant hypochondriac, while dad's a drunken lout), Engstrom's gutsy comic work as the family's grody ex-con aunt with a money-laundering scheme is singular. And as Kimberly's gangly, D&D-playing love interest, Haggard (whose messy hair is the season's best prop) plays the awkwardness of May-December snogging with great dignity. Some bumpy transitions, and scenic and lighting schemes that are a little too dark hold it back a bit, but a final unexpected kiss ultimately seals the evening.—Christopher Piatt