Earlier this season, Stray Cat Theatre’s Artistic Director Ron May swapped directing gigs with Damon Dering, the Artistic Director of Nearly Naked Theatre. May got gypped. Dering, however, definitely got the sweet end of the lollipop, David Lindsay-Adaire’s Kimberly Akimbo, another of his weird concept, landmark obsessed dramedies from the author of SCT’s production from last season, Wonder of the World. The concept that drives this oddity relies on an illness, one that causes a young girl to age 4 ½ times faster than normal. Kimberly (the inimitable Jacqueline Gaston) is about to turn sweet sixteen, the average age that those afflicted with this illness die. She is sharing her birthday with her drunken father Buddy (Christopher Mascarelli) and her pregnant, nutsy mother Pattie (Lisa Fogel) and an uninvited guest, Pattie’s homeless and shifty sister Debra (Kerry McCue). This goes on while she’s in the middle of a flirtation with a gawky guy in her grade, Jeff (Sean Rhys Gilyeat). Life’s tough when you’re 16 going on 72. Now do you see why Dering scored big on this deal?
This is Dering’s familiar territory. He’s obviously at home in this absurdity, and he uses a sure hand to guide his impeccable cast through the odd dialogue and the subtleties and the explosions of truth. Michael Jones’ set is divided into four sections and it constantly harkens back to an obscured clock motif that keeps Kimberly’s fate in our faces. His stage pictures are always striking, using blocking that speaks as loudly as the text.
The performances are perfectly modulated. This is a show that could easily slide into the overt. Dering and the actors have come up with a unique idea: the crazies are presented in a compellingly straight way, while Rhys Gilyeat, the sanest character, is played in a sweetly neurotic way. The result is a show that never seems as strange as it really is. Gaston does an excellent job of capturing that special je ne sais pas of a sixteen year old girl’s attitude. Each “whatever,” and every curse is carried with the power of Gaston’s innocence. When she and Rhys Gilyeat move tentatively toward each other, it’s simply true.
Mascarelli is careful and studied. His drunkenness is believable, his enforced sobriety is even better. There is one moment in the second act when Kimberly tells him a painful truth that he breaks the audience’s heart without speaking a word. Fogel has a great delivery style for her psychotic jabbering that is funny and sad all at once. McCue makes hyper funny without wearing out her welcome, a difficult task that she executes flawlessly. This is an ensemble that works together to the benefit of all. On opening night, there was a moment when someone seemed to have missed a line, but they worked together to move on with minimal problems. Teamwork.
The design element is strong, with excellent costume choices by Justin DeRo, and a very fitting soundtrack highlighted in Brandon Kress’ carefully timed sound design. Scott Campbell’s lighting does a good job of partitioning off the cramped space and setting up some very interesting effects.
Here’s another hit for Stray Cat. It’s nice to see the two best alternative companies in town collaborating. Let’s just hope that if they do this again, they’ll come up with something equally challenging for both talented directors.