Living with a teen aging way too soon

Maureen Torsney-Weir inhabits Kimberly, a girl with the unexplained genetic condition progeria.
Maureen Torsney-Weir inhabits Kimberly, a girl with the unexplained genetic condition progeria. (CHERIE B. TAY)
Posted: September 17, 2011

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 has 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 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 (Alex Keiper) 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 dyke 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 lighthearted, 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, hshapiro@phillynews.com, or #philastage on Twitter.

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