Thoughts & Musings

Cleverly Akimbo At A Not So Sweet 16

by Rendueles Villalba

As body language goes, akimbo is rather elusive. Take its broad-based stand. Put your hands on your hips and you find yourself feeling grounded and ready for something. But what? The posture initially evokes a certain willingness to wait out the question. We are eager to please or protect or impress or something. Whatever it is we are called to do, we are prepared. We are akimbo. But if held too long, without any meaningful end in sight, akimbo becomes conspicuous. We wonder have we somehow become defiant? And if so, with whom and why? Have we become an absurd Western parody – gun slingers poised to shoot from the hip at the first inconsequential thing we encounter? The stance now feels hollow – a bimbo’s akimbo. We have become a joke, a lonely tragic comedy, senselessly waiting to be bestowed a purpose. As we laugh though, enlightenment arrives. We discover a freedom from the smallness of our body and its longing for dignity and meaning. In this moment, we stand cleverly akimbo and time stands still with us. This is the pilgrimage that David Lindsay-Abaire gifts to us with his perversely hilarious comedy, Kimberly Akimbo.

Kimberly Levaco, a teenage senior citizen, has a rare genetic disorder that is a blend of actual medical fact and poetic license. Kimberly’s condition resembles Progeria, a childhood disease that produces the appearance of accelerated aging and a grossly shortened lifespan. The inverse of Peter Pan (the boy who could never grow-up) Kimberly is the girl who is never allowed to be a child. Her bizarre condition serves as a metaphoric device to convey her status as a parentified child. Born to neglectful, self-absorbed parents, she must assume a supervisory, even care-providing role for them. Psychologically, this ages her prematurely. In a surreal dream-like parallel, her body ages faster as well. She must forfeit the wonder and play of childhood to assume adult anxieties. Not the least of which, she must face her own grossly shortened existence. Sadly, her parents have no capacity to help her navigate the fear and grief of her ever-present hyper-aging. Instead, they indulge in escape tactics. They abandon Kimberly and burden her with the consequences of their dysfunction. Their neglect is especially palpable when they forget Kimberly’s 16th birthday, which has the added significance of signally her transition into borrowed time – sixteen is her life expectancy. It is a poignantly unrecognized birthday-deathday. Her parents’ absenteeism heap cosmic indifference upon her already tragic mortality.

Kimberly’s father, Buddy is perpetually disappointing, a checked-out alcoholic. Her mother, Pattie is busy being pregnant with a replacement child. Pattie is constantly banking thoughts and experiences on audiotape to playback to her future child. This emphasizes Pattie’s favoritism for a fantasy, not-yet-arrived child, over the actual, too-flesh-and-blood Kimberly. Unable to cope with Kimberly and her lethal illness, Pattie trumps Kimberly with a fabricated terminal condition of her own.

While her conception is far from immaculate, the unborn Carmelita is a doll-messiah. She is the child that will give Pattie the redeeming chance to breast-feed as she has always dreamed to do. Then Pattie will bond and be loved. Perhaps, Carmelita will be a more satisfying, more bountiful parent than the inadequate, used up Kimberly.

When Debra, the feral aunt appears, the spittle tenuously gluing the Levaco household together starts to give. Her mischief is unearthly and exacerbating. For a brief moment though, she remarkably supplies a singular reprieve from all the incivility. Debra remembers Kimberly’s birthday and gives her a gift of a conch shell. For all its thin tenderness however, it may just as well have been stolen from a high school production of the Lord of the Flies. When Kimberly later blows it in a half-hearted attempt at getting noticed, it is no trumpet of victory.

Fortunately, Kimberly meets classmate Jeff. Initially, Kimberly is little more than a homework assignment to him. But curiosity or sheer desperation leads them to explore an awkward, very adolescent oasis in each other. With the clock ticking and knights-in-shining-armor in short supply, nerdy Jeff may be Kim’s only shot at a savior. Jeff glories in a geeky talent for anagrams. As he rearranges letters, Kimberly ultimately seizes an opportunity to rearrange her life to emerge cleverly akimbo.

Kimberly Akimbo is not a polite comedy. It scratches and bites. It dares us to go ahead and laugh. Just remember, we bear our own teeth as we do.

Dr. Villalba is a Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at Brown University.

The opinions expressed by the writer are not necessarily those of 2nd Story Theatre.

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