In her unbecoming pillbox chapeau, Kimberly Levaco is a dead ringer for Rose Kennedy-or so says her aunt, who has dubious use for such a striking resemblance. A bank heist is under way, with Kim a willing participant amid her elderly appearance. Kim, 16, has progeria, the disease that causes children's bodies to age four to seven times faster than they should.
As portrayed in 6th@Penn Theatre's current Kimberly Akimbo, the ailment is no match for Kim's spirit. Its implications also strike a palpable chord in the five actors, whose comic chemistry reads as though they've been at this for months.
This is a pretty darn good show, one that writer David Lindsay-Abaire has wisely steered from contemplation of progeria's medical consequences. Kim is an otherwise budding, spunky teen, her disease a compelling element in a well-built story of twists and turns.
In the real world, progeria cases are few and far between. According to the Progeria Research Foundation, the disease occurs once in every 4 million to 8 million births worldwide and affects both sexes. Heart problems invariably claim the victims, whose average age at death is 13. The longest-living patient survived to 27.
But this play is not so much about progeria as the dysfunction within the family affected by it. Kim (Linda Castro) is stretched to the limit by three relatives: Debra, a check-forging aunt (Liv Kellgren); Buddy, an alcoholic, codependent dad (Matt Scott); and Pattie, a hypochondriac, psycho mom (Jo Anne Glover). Her lone link to sanity is supplied by school chum Jeff (Jason Connors), an impressionable nerd who loses himself in word games. He's fond of making up anagrams-it takes him only 56 seconds, in fact, to rearrange the letters in "Kimberly Levaco" to read "Cleverly Akimbo."
A grisly family secret unfolds in time, with Pattie's sociopathic greed holding sway. The flash in her eyes betrays her disdain for Kim, while chalky Buddy undergoes something of an epiphany amid his guilt. In spots, Buddy's character outsizes the others to the point of mild distraction-a problem that might've been solved had Lindsay-Abaire had drawn him as a narrator, a là the part of Martin Ruiz in Peter Shaffer's stellar The Royal Hunt of the Sun.
But that's merely an observation, not a criticism. Fact is, director Delicia Turner Sonnenberg has imparted a piece of that magical actorial bond upon her charges, who clumsily grapple with their own foibles as a tough young woman, uh, comes of age.
This review is based on the performance of Feb. 7. Kimberly Akimbo runs through Feb. 22 at the 6th@Penn Theatre. $15-$20. 619-688-9210.