Yes, the rumors of her retirement were greatly exaggerated! Lansing legend Carmen Decker has returned to the stage in Stormfield Theatre’s “Kimberly Akimbo,” and it’s a perfect showcase for the award-winning actress’s formidable skills. But more than that, it’s also a mighty fine effort by the entire ensemble.
David Lindsay-Abaire’s script offers quite a challenge for a seasoned actress. The title role is that of a 16-year-old girl who suffers from a genetic disorder that ages her body at four-and-a-half times the normal rate. Kimberly – an otherwise normal high school teenager – has the appearance of a woman in her 70s. Since she’s reached the end of the average life span for a person with her condition, she’s likely to die soon. But that hasn’t caused her to lose her sense of humor about the situation. (In one of the show’s funniest and most ironic moments – thanks to Decker’s wry delivery, of course – Kimberly tells her dad, who is concerned about her new male friend’s intentions, not to worry. “I went through menopause four years ago.”)
As scripts go, it’s a rather unusual twist. Rather than casting a young actress to “play old,” the role requires a veteran actress to “play young” – which, as you can imagine, requires audience members to make a tremendous leap when suspending their disbelief. But not with Decker in the role. Here, the formidable actress behaves just like a typical 16 year old: She blushes during discussions of sex, giggles when her geeky boyfriend talks about kissing, and sasses her parents with gleeful abandon. And to top it off, her body language leaves no doubt what’s behind those well-delivered lines.
But Kimberly is only one of five characters in Lindsay-Abaire’s well-crafted script. She is, however, the sanest of the bunch – at least as far as her family is concerned.
Kimberly and her parents moved recently to Bogota, New Jersey from Secaucus under somewhat mysterious circumstances. Buddy (Tommy Gomez), her father, works as an auto mechanic and spends his nights at the bar – mostly, it seems, to avoid his crazy wife. Pattie (Deborah Keller), her mother, is a pregnant hypochondriac with totally bandaged (and temporarily useless) hands thanks to a recent operation. The unexpected arrival of her Aunt Debra (Michelle Meredith), a former convict with big plans, is greeted with both fear and disdain – and rightfully so, since her presence threatens to shatter some closely-held family secrets. Meanwhile, in the midst of all the family turmoil, Kimberly finds a friend and potential boyfriend in Jeff (Cosmo Greene), a fellow classmate and anagram-loving social outcast.
So as you might imagine, Lindsay-Abaire’s delightful script takes its quirky inhabitants on a rollercoaster ride that explores the dynamics of a family facing a scary reality or two – and the decisions they make along their journey. It’s a sweet, strange and often very funny tale, made better by Kristine Thatcher’s slick direction and the near-perfect performances of her actors.
Keller, armed with a New Jersey accent and an attitude to match, is delightful as the self-absorbed family matriarch, who seems more concerned about her own imagined ailments than her daughter’s life. And Meredith storms the stage upon her first entrance and never stops. (Her earthy introduction to Jeff at a recent performance seemed to stun some of the older audience members. But they quickly warmed up to her as the very funny scene progressed.)
The men fare equally as well. Gomez is a natural as Buddy, while you can’t help but love Greene’s sweet and very realistic Jeff.
More important than the individual performances, however, is this: The actors are at their best as a team. As such, the show’s most memorable moments are those when the actors are interacting with one another, such as the fatherly talk while driving Kimberly and Jeff to school – which freaks out the kids, of course. Or the family board game. Or, quite honestly, any time Decker and Greene are together – alone or with others. Director Thatcher gives each of these scenes – and plenty more – the proper room to breathe and grow. And the result is perfectly paced, emotion-and-laugh-filled night at the theater.
Set design by Michelle Raymond and lights by Tim Fox all add character to the show. But Raymond’s sound choices are especially notable.
So yes, the rumors were wrong. Lansing’s favorite actress is back – and she’s in fine form indeed!
Stormfield Theatre, 201 Morgan Lane, Lansing. Thursday-Sunday through March 27. $18-$24. 517-372-0945. http://www.stormfieldtheatre.org.