March 16 2011 12:00 AM

Like its teenage heroine, Stormfield’s dark comedy is still finding its way


A daughter who is dying quickly, a mother who is dying slowly, a father who is killing himself, and a baby to be born in the midst of it all: It sounds dark — and it is — but David Lindsay-Abaire’s play "Kimberly Akimbo" is wickedly funny, especially while juggling subjects of death and domestic turmoil.

The current production at Stormfield Theatre may eventually scale the comically insightful heights set by the author, but opening night felt like a preview show, despite strong individual performances. Hampered by timing issues and an overall lack of cohesion, "Akimbo" has yet to reach the high bar set by Stormfield’s staged reading of the play in 2009.

Returning to the Lansing stage once again, the renowned Carmen Decker plays Kimberly, a now-16-year-old girl who was born with the are disease progeria, which causes her body to age four times faster than a normal person. Although physically considered to be near the end of her life, Kimberly is a relatively normal teenager straight from a John Hughes movie: birthday forgotten, alcoholic father, first love from an unlikely friend.

When her estranged aunt returns to the fold, Kimberly’s understanding of her family dynamics takes a twist. Ultimately, Kimberly must decide whether to continue helping the people who openly acknowledge her as a mistake.

Arguably, Decker is Lansing’s Betty White, still displaying amazing theatrical dexterity, charm, and comic timing.

Still, Decker does not always feel completely enmeshed in the play or its cast. Apart from an explosively confrontational scene in the second act, Decker moves and speaks in a different rhythm than the rest of the cast. The reason for this discrepancy could be the uniquely self-aware qualities of her character, but it often feels simply out of step with the dance.

As Kimberly’s mother, Pattie, Deb Keller waddles about the stage in a state of resignation. With bandaged hands and a floral bathrobe that covers her baby bump, Pattie requires assistance from her husband, Buddy, and Kimberly for all of her daily functions. Keller’s Jersey accent is perfect and she effortlessly draws humor from her restrained physicality, all while slyly holding the reins on every member of her family.

Tommy Gomez plays Buddy, a husky gas station attendant who navigates the stresses of his family life from the inside of a bottle. Like many fathers, Buddy is a protective, moral and well-intentioned man with lots of promises that could incentivize if they were not so empty. Gomez ful fills all of these characteristics with warm authenticity.

Two of the strongest performances come from the youngest cast members, Cosmo Greene and Michelle Meredith. Greene plays Kimberly’s nerdy and naïve friend Jeff in an innocent daze. Meredith plays Kimberly’s scheming and homeless aunt Debra with refreshing bluntness. Both actors easily overcome any age discrepancies with enthusiasm and conviction.

Michelle Raymond’s scenic and property design ingeniously blends a cityscape backdrop with functional furniture, providing all of the adaptability of a black box stage with a maple polish.

Director Kristine Thatcher is probably the most responsible for the show’s unevenness. From slow set changes accompanied by music often inconsistent with the tone of the prior scene to dialogue that plods depressingly instead of prancing satirically, last Thursday’s performance was an unfinished product.

Given her tenacity and track record, a well-executed "Kimberly Akimbo" is certainly within Thatcher’s grasp.

’Kimberly Akimbo’

Stormfield Theatre 201 Morgan Lane, Frandor

Through March 27. 7 p.m. Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays

$18 Thursday performances; $24 Friday and Saturday performances; $20 Sunday performances

(517) 372-0945

Tickets are also available at the door one hour before showtime; pay by cash or check only