‘Kimberly Akimbo’ A Hilariously Dark Comedy (4.5 Stars)

*Directed by Allison Olivia Choat; Original Music by Dan Rodriguez; Set Design by John Paul Devlin; Costume Design by Susanne Miller. Presented by Moonbox Productions at the BCA Plaza Theatre, 539 Tremont Street, Boston through April 25th.*

Kimberly Levaco is a teen with a few problems. Dad’s a drunk who pumps gas for a living and forgets her birthday because he’s out drinking with his pals. Her hypochondriac mother is about to deliver her second child, but she has the maternal instincts of Joan Crawford. And the only person in her immediate family who appears to be able to give her some positive attention is her Aunt Debra – when she’s not doing a stretch in jail. And oh, she suffers from a rare progeria-like disease that ages her four times more quickly than the rest of the population, so she looks more like she’s likely to be heading to the bingo parlor than the prom.

Moonbox Productions’ terrific staging of Pulitzer Prize-winning South Boston native David Lindsay-Abaire’s 2000 work, *Kimberly Akimbo*, is a wickedly dark comedy that features characters right out of a Jerry Springer episode – with a Harold & Maude teenage romance thrown in for good measure. The portrayal of the serious and potentially tragic disease (its victims usually die in their teens) takes a back seat to the dysfunction of the family to great comic effect, one which has Mom and Dad each drinking a beer as they prepare to go to the hospital to deliver the baby. But this is not a comedy based in broad caricature. The characters are well-drawn and three dimensional, and the story lines are touching when we’re not howling at the disturbingly absurd white trash family’s interplay.

The story opens with Dad showing up two-and-a-half hours late to pick up Kimberly on a cold dark night, but he tries to make it up to her by taking her to Zippy Burger on the way home. While ordering at the drive-through, Kimberly is asked by nerdy teen Jeff if he can do his term paper on her disease, and it’s the beginning of an unlikely friendship/romance, despite Dad’s attempts to keep his daughter from being hurt (by someone outside the family). It soon becomes apparent that Jeff comes from a similarly flawed background, so he doesn’t flee in terror whenever Kimberly’s Dad Buddy or her criminally-driven Aunt Debra behave in ways that are inappropriate – to put it mildly.

When they arrive home, we meet the study in self-absorption that is Kimberly’s mother. She’s in late stage pregnancy, wearing two casts on her arms following dual carpal tunnel surgeries, and is convinced that she has both cancer and diabetes. The only faint familial love that Kimberly receives is from her Aunt Debra, who remembers her birthday with a gift she procured from a crackhead, when she surprises her and her new boyfriend in the school library. But that love carries a price, as we see her try to draw Kimberly and Jeff into her devious get rich quick scheme.

This is a wonderfully crafted story that moves from absolute hilarity to moving drama seamlessly. Lindsay-Abaire is a gifted writer and a brilliantly funny one to boot, and one guesses he’s seen his share of dysfunction in his own life in order to be able to so truthfully capture some truly screwed up family dynamics. But clever writing requires inspired execution, and the cast is up to the task. Sheriden Thomas is convincing as the doomed Kimberly, which is no easy trick, considering the part she’s playing is four decades her junior. She’s especially effective when she stands up to her ridiculous parents, who never miss an opportunity to display their horrible parenting skills. As the father Buddy, Andrew Winson delivers a layered performance as a well-meaning failure who repeatedly lets his drinking get in the way of any responsibility, and Micah Greene is engaging as the self-centered mother.

But the biggest comedy kudos go to Lucas Cardona as Jeff and Shana Dirik as Aunt Debra, in part because they’ve got the best lines, but secondly because they know how to deliver them in the context of their character’s weirdness. Cardona is lovably goofy as the anagram-loving Jeff, who says of his hobby, “Once you get started, you can’t stop. It’s like heroin.” And he should know, as he’s got a brother in rehab for his addiction to dope. But it’s Dirik who nearly steals the show, as the scheming reprobate Debra, who upon first meeting Jeff offers him sexual favors for money – in the school library. She’s an unabashed train wreck of a human being and pulls out all the stops in this performance.

When I read the synopsis for the play, I thought it was going to be one of those after school specials where we would learn what it’s like to live with a horrible disease. We may not learn much about Kimberly’s sad condition, but we certain learn a little about the sicker side of the human condition, and we can still laugh and as we learn. This is a great take for lovers of dark comedy. See it. For more info, go to: www.moonboxproductions.org/