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‘Kimberly Akimbo' opens at Malibu Stage Co.

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Posted: Wednesday, February 29, 2012 12:00 am

Local Katharine Ross stars in this dark comedy about a young girl of 16 going on 60.

By Hank Pollard / Special to The Malibu Times

The oxymoron of “dark humor” is now a common theme in theater and film, although it frequently misses the mark. Writing talent and excellent acting must coalesce for it to work. Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire's “Kimberly Akimbo,” and a superb cast expertly directed by Graeme Clifford, pulled it all together in the Malibu Stage Company's current offering that opened last week.

Headlined by Malibu's Katharine Ross in the lead role, the cast also includes such acting talents as Michael Gallagher, Kathleen Dunn Muzingo, Tasha Ames and Breck Gallini. Tasha Ames also joined Clifford as a producer.

The dark side of “Kimberly Akimbo” is represented by the title character, a girl of 16 (played by Ross) who suffers from progeria, a rare and fatal genetic disease that causes premature aging. While she is only 16, her body is almost 70, tragically forcing her to confront mortality at a time when most of her peers are concerned only with acquiring a driver's license.

But the humor comes in the antics of Kimberly's zany, dysfunctional suburban New Jersey family: a blue collar beer-swilling, unreliable father; a pregnant, hypochondriacal, accident-prone mother; and a shiftless, scam-artist aunt. A nerdy classmate who gives Kimberly her first kiss also adds to the fun.

Katharine Ross' sensitive portrayal of Kimberly is stunning. She evokes the teenager's longings and simultaneously her sadness at knowing that she will be thwarted by her rapidly aging body. Ross affects a gentle weariness on the stage that speaks volumes.

Michael Gallagher, who plays Kimberly's father, reveals layers of both coarseness and tenderness that continually surprise. Kathy Dunn Muzingo, the mother, has a sharp comedic sense, drawing laughs from the audience with incessant complaints about a variety of maladies. The larcenous aunt who has been estranged and unexpectedly and moves in, is played broadly and effectively by Tasha Ames. She inveigles Kimberly and her classmate to join her in a scheme to cash fraudulent checks, with predictably humorous results.

Kimberly's classmate, played by Breck Gallini, projects honesty and guilelessness through his obsessions with creating anagrams and playing Dungeons & Dragons.

The leavening effect of humor prevents the play from becoming maudlin despite the underlying tragedy of Kimberly's terrible affliction.

In addition to the strong acting, Janne Larsen's stage design contributes heavily to the overall effect. The stage of the family's living room is simple but believable. A large overhead clock and many smaller clocks sitting on shelves are suggestive of the inexorable passage of time that is sapping Kimberly's life.

“Kimberly Akimbo” is the third of the MSC's four-play 2011-12 subscription repertory season.

The play runs through March 18, 2012 at the Malibu Stage Company, 29243 Pacific Coast Highway. Performances are on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 5 PM. Tickets are $25 for general admission and $10 for students and can be purchased at 310-589-1998.

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