Monday, June 09, 2014

The Phoenix Theatre knows comedy and does it well

Christine Mosere and Melanie Calderwood in Kimberly Akimbo 
Kimberly Akimbo
by David Lindsay-Abaire
Directed by Eric Lewis
Starring Melanie Calderwood, Jay Jenkins, Christine Mosere, Carissa Meisner Smit, and Woody Lotts
The Phoenix Theatre
through June 22

If you haven't been out to Edmonds lately, there are two theater companies there and both are well worth paying attention to. Driftwood Players is one, and The Phoenix Theatre is the other. The Phoenix Theatre grew out of the ashes of Edge of the World Theatre which probably felt like the edge of the world if you attended their ramshackled and unamenitied performances. Melanie Calderwood and her crew fixed up the space, painted, made a cute lobby, and turned it into a little piece of escapism.

The Phoenix tends to focus on comedies, and they do them well. But just because they are funny does not make the comedies bland or without societal commentary. Their latest offering is Kimberly Akimbo by David Lindsay-Abaire. The biggest surprise in this play is that the main character, 16 year old Kimberly, suffers from progeria, a condition where a child ages so rapidly that he/she physically appears to be aged and often dies by age 16.

Lindsay-Abaire does not just give Kimberly this condition, he also makes her mother somewhat neglectful, narcissistic, and think she's dying of cancer, and her father an alcoholic, he also adds an aunt that has been in and out of jails and homeless! That description would, by itself, sound more like a tragedy. But if you give it a chance, it's a bittersweet comic take on resourcefulness and family resilience.

The cast does a lovely job of bringing the play to life, centered by the sweet and patient performance of Melanie Calderwood. She is note-perfect as a 16 year-old trapped in an 80ish year old body. She understands her condition, tolerates her parents - mostly, and is marvelously entranced by maybe finally getting a boyfriend. Calderwood is a frequent performer in her theater and I have yet to see her fail to bring each character fully to life.



Jay Jenkins, as the befuddled, drunk, but well-meaning father, is a lot of fun and pairs well with Christine Mosere's dysfunctional mother, who has to be fed and wiped due to carpal tunnel surgery, and is 9 months pregnant. Carissa Meisner Smit antically plays the aunt who stalks her family, intending to bring them into yet another unethical situation. Woody Lotts matches Calderwood beat for beat as the teen boy whose own family is at least as bad as Kimberly's so he somehow has compassion and a real possibility of giving Kimberly something she has never had.

While there were a few muggy moments that pushed the comedy a tad too much, the well-conceived set (by Eric Lewis) managed all the different environments well and the pacing moved briskly forward. Lindsay-Abaire's play kind of piles it on and ignores a lot of the tragedy facing this family, but the hopeful ending lets you rejoin real life feeling good.

If you can't get to this show, you might like seeing their Gilligan's Island show this summer (an actual episode of the television program) or check out their 2014/15 season.