PITTSFIELD — The old woman sitting on a bench — shivering, huddled up in a well-worn parka — outside an indoor skating rink at the opening of David Lindsay-Abaire's "Kimberly Akimbo" is not your average elderly woman. She is, in fact, just about to turn 16 and she is waiting for her father, who is late, to pick her up.
As played — beautifully, I might add — by Debra Jo Rupp in director Rob Ruggiero's loving, compassionate production at Barrington Stage Company's St. Germain Stage, the look of loss, of abandonment on her face is emblematic of a life lived in loss and abandonment even in the midst of other people — at school; her family, especially. How she gets to The look that will fill her face when we last see her some two hours later is something quite different. How she gets her is the arc of her journey in this play.
Time is not an ally of Kimberly Levaco, who shares a house — and life — in Bogota (buh-GO-da), N.J. with her father and mother. They've resettled here having left Secaucus, N.J. suddenly and under unsettling, to say the least, circumstances. Kimberly has a progeria-like illness ("without the dwarfism, the beaked nose and the receded chin," notes her only real friend, Jeff, a classmate who is a master of word-play, especially anagrams, one of which is the source of the play's title) that is aging her 4½ times faster than normal. As she faces her 16th birthday, Kimberly is keenly aware that she has reached the average life span for someone with her condition.
She is, nonetheless, a challenge for her parents — her father, Buddy (expertly played by Chris Thorn), who makes promises — small ones, grand ones — he is incapable of keeping despite the best of intentions; her mother, Pattie (Jessiee Datino), who suffers from Carpal Tunnel, for which her hands are wrapped in massive bandages, and who is, against all wisdom, pregnant again, a way of making up for the "flawed" child, Kimberly, she and Buddy produced the first time round; and her mother's sister, Debra (Jessica Savage in a delicious go-for-broke performance), a loose cannon ex-con who bursts into Kimberley's life with a daring, audacious hair-brained caper to score a bundle of big-time cash, illegally, and for which she needs Kimberly's help. For her part, Kimberly is a more-than-willing ally and she persuades Jeff (a finely tuned performance by Adam Langdon who, at times, seems to channel Matthew Broderick in his younger days) to join.
Lindsay-Abaire keeps his cards close to his vest, patiently playing them, one by one, often in unassuming ways; at other times with dramatic abruptness.
Rupp holds the center of this tightly bound ensemble of smart actors making smart and telling choices in portraying essentially decent people who cannot get out their own way, with the exception of Kimberly, who recognizes an opportunity when she sees one and takes full advantage.
Rupp catches Kimberly's astonishing intelligence, strength, resourcefulness, wit, vulnerability and innocence, particularly when Kimberly confesses to Jeff that she's never been kissed. His fumbling, endearingly awkward and goofy offer to kiss her is turned down but it's not giving anything away to say that the time will come when she will be kissed for the first time in her life and when that moment comes, it is played with just the right measure of significance before settling into the ether of memory and experience.
Funny, poignant, complex, unexpected and unsentimental, "Kimberly Akimbo" at times feels longer than its two hours, but that's a problem more with Lindsay-Abaire's storytelling.
Even when the playwright loses some momentum before regaining it, these actors never do. As a result, "Kimberly Akimbo" charms in gratifying ways. The writing is smart patronizes neither its characters nor the audience, whom Lindsay-Abaire trusts as much as he trusts his characters. In that sense, the courageous Kimberly, especially as played by Rupp, is not the only one for whom discovery becomes a way of life.
What: "Kimberly Akimbo" by David Lindsay-Abaire. Directed by Rob Ruggiero
With: Debra Jo Rupp, Chris Thorn, Jessiee Datino, Adam Langdon and Jessica Savage
Designers: Timothy Mackabee, scenic; Tricia Barsamian, costumes; Matt Richards, lighting; Vincent Olivieri, sound
Who: Barrington Stage Company
When: Through July 16. Evenings — Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30. Matinees — Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 3
Where: St. Germain Stage, Sydelle and Lee Blatt Performing Arts Center, 36 Linden St., Pittsfield
Running time: 2 hours (including one intermission)
How: (413) 236-8888; barringtonstageco.org; Barrington Stage box office — 30 Union St. (Boyd-Quinson Mainstage)