Sunday, February 14, 2016

Review: Kimberly Akimbo

A funny play about a high-school girl with a rare genetic condition, David Lindsay-Abaire's "Kimberly Akimbo" opens in Norristown, from Theatre Horizon. Inquirer theater critic Howard Shapiro reviews.

Review: Kimberly Akimbo

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Maureen Torsney-Weir, fully convincing at the 16-year-old leading character of "Kimberly Akimbo, a production from Theatre Horizon at Centre Theater in Norristown. Photo by Cherie B. Tay.

By Howard Shapiro

In Kimberly Akimbo, which opened Thursday and is getting a good ride at Theatre Horizon in Norristown, playwright David Lindsay-Abaire calls for an actress in her 50s to play a 16-year-old.

So this is as much a bow, nice and low, to local actress Maureen Torsney-Weir — who’s done a bunch of stage work here as characters her own age — as it is a review of Kimberly Akimbo, by the author of the better-known play Rabbit Hole.

Torsney-Weir is convincing and teenaged-all-the-way in a play about a family that includes a girl with the rare and unexplained genetic condition called progeria, which ages youngsters inordinately. They look old far before their time and on average don’t live past their mid-teens, generally dying of heart attacks or strokes.

Though that future hangs over Kimberly, Lindsay-Abaire’s play is no elegy for its leading character. It’s just the opposite — a curvy-plotted piece about a low-class New Jersey family that happens to include her and must deal with her needs.

All the while her dad (Rob Kahn) gets drunk every night till who knows when, her pregnant mom (Marybeth Gorman) is always convincing herself she has various debilitating diseases, her geeky high school guy-friend (the excellent Corey Regensburg) obsesses on creating anagrams, and a dirtball aunt is trouble waiting to erupt.

The play has an edge — Lindsay-Abaire gives it electric underlying tension. It’s also a little too glib at times, and should be funnier in the fluent staging by Matthew Decker, Theatre Horizon’s resident director. Some of the interchanges, particularly involving Gorman as the mom, are inherently funny but come off as only mildly amusing; to be fair, she has a tough role because her character, unlike the others, is not drawn fully.

The most bizarre of the characters is the aunt — Keiper juices her role as a lawless, louche instigator and a dike with a corresponding tough mouth. These may sound like pat characters, and they are — Lindsay-Abaire peoples Kimberly Akimbo with unyielding stereotypes. What makes it all work is Kimberly and her condition, which he eventually uses to drive his plot.

This is where Torsney-Weir comes in, in a performance that pulls the production together. Her Kimberly is at once an exception, an outcast, and every girl’s age- 16 — a little defensive, a little mouthy, a little silently hurt, and a lot curious about a world she may never live to see. Torsney-Weir inhabits her.

Maura Roche’s ingenious set is a cheap apartment whose walls light up or open to reveal cabinets, or the outdoors, or the makings of another room. The smart lighting for this is by David Todaro, and the light-hearted tinkly background music, by Daniel Perelstein. That music draws you into the day-at-a-time world of these characters — they’re not exactly like people you may know, but close enough that you want to learn more.

Contact staff writer Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727,, or #philastage on Twitter.


Kimberly Akimbo: Presented by Theatre Horizon at the Centre Theater, 401DeKalb St., Norristown, through Oct. 2. Tickets: $29. Information: 610-283-2230 or


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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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