David Lindsay-Abaire's "Kimberly Akimbo" strikes a poignant chord and Gilbert and Sullivan's "Patience" is more than poetical!

10/17/1881 Program art work for Gilbert and Sullivan's "Patience"

This past weekend, I attended the 31st annual Shellie Awards in Walnut Creek, as an award presenter and was once again amazed at the incredible entertainment opportunities available to all of us, especially due to the fact that there are so many wonderful theatrical opportunities locally, thirteen theatrical companies between Antioch, Walnut Creek, Pleasant Hill, Danville, Martinez, and Lafayette. It was a thrill and a grand evening of entertainment as these companies performed various memorable scenes from their award nominated productions.

While I do not have the space to cover the various awards I want to remind you names of the many companies who vie for you theatrical dollar locally. These companies and their principle production locations are as follows: Butterfield 8 Theatre Company (Concord); Center REPertory Company (Walnut Creek), Contra Costa Christian Theatre (Walnut Creek), Contra Costa Musical Theatre (Walnut Creek) Diablo Actors Ensemble (Walnut Creek), Diablo Theatre Company (Walnut Creek), Galatean Players Ensemble Theatre (Walnut Creek),Onstage Repertory Theatre (formerly Pleasant Hill-now Walnut Creek), Role Players Ensemble Theatre (Danville), Town Hall Theatre Company (Lafayette) and the Willows Theatre Company (newly moved to Martinez).

As a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics circle I cover entertainment venues all over the bay area, I tell you continually about theatrical opportunities throughout the entire bay area, all the way from San Jose to San Francisco, to Marin and the East Bay areas.

This week’s reviews cover two very entertaining and intriguing productions, the first at the Danville Community Center and the second at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek.

Kimberly Akimbo opened this past week in the Danville Community Center, under the auspices of the Role Players Ensemble Theatre Company. Playwright David Lindsay-Abaire has written some very notable, thought provoking works, including the painfully realistic “Rabbit Hole”, the farcial “Fuddy Meers” and the tyranny of neglect is artfully and humorously equated in the Pulitzer Prize winning play, “Kimberly Akimbo”.

At age 16, Kimberly Levaco, may be approaching the end of her life, the victim of an unnamed disease that appears to be closely related to “progeria”, a severe genetic condition in which a person seems to age inappropriately at approximately 4 times the normal rate. Kimberly is played brilliantly by Claudine Jones who portrays in many ways a typical highschool student, but who physically looks and feels like a 70 year old woman. The real heart and complex tapestry of the story, set in Teaneck, New Jersey, may more importantly, be the weird and totally dysfunctional family into which she was born.

The family consists of Kimberly’s pregnant mother, Pattie (Didi Seddick); her husband Buddy (Chris Ratti); and her daughter Kimberly (Claudine Jones). Patty is a particularly foul-mouthed character, bereft of any signposts of education of intelligence. She suffers from many physical disabilities and in many ways may suffer as a hypochondriac. She has lost the use of both hands from a form of carpal tunnel syndrome reportedly brought on due to the work she performed in a factory for a number of years. Now, relegated to living at home, she spends her days recording family memories for her unborn child on a tape recorder, a recorder that she activates by using her nose to depress the keys. She is handicapped by her disabilities and cannot even take care of herself and has to seek assistance after she uses the bathroom facilities. More importantly, she does not even seem to comprehend the severe disease affecting and shortening Kimberly’s life. Husband Buddy and daughter Kimberly survive by keeping their distance.

Kimberly’s father, Buddy, has a severe drinking problem among his other many failings. He has difficulty keeping a job, or keeping a promise to show up on time, and forgets important milestone dates or commitments. Kimberly does not have many friends and one friend and co-student in particular; Jeff McCracken (played well by Nick Brunner), is a nerdy kind of kid. Jeff is writing a science class paper about the disease that plagues Kimberly and has sought her out to better understand the illness or the genetic disorder that is affecting her life. They become friends over the consternation of Kimberly’s father who still sees is daughter as a 16 year old. While driving them to school one day, Buddy makes an acrid accusation about knowing how young men like to get their hands on a young girls breasts, not taking into mind Kimberly’s physical age, verses her chronological age, and the fact that she had already gone through menopause four years earlier, when she was only12 years of age, embarrassing both of the young people.

Life trudges perversely along until Kimberly's homeless aunt Debra (Holly Kosel) shows up. Her mother’s sister, Debra, knows where all the bodies are buried in this family and knows full well why the family suddenly had to leave Secaucus, New Jersey and what happened there. Aunt Debra, who has the hardened mind of a street-wise ex-convict, convinces Kimberly and her young high school friend Jeff to help her pull off a complex stolen check fraud by altering checks she has stolen from a US postoffice box. Debora’s bizarre scheme sets into motion a course of action that will eventually allow Kimberly to escape the madness of her environment and family in a long denied and unfulfilled trip to “safari land” and the world beyond.

The cast as selected by director Sue Trigg could not be better. The story, which seems a little bit slow to start, then takes you by surprise, making you laugh, even while you are crying. Every aspect of Kimberly Akimbo is sincerely terrific!
The pains and physical and mental problems described by author Lindsay-Abaire cannot be easily named or categorized and would be difficult to treat, even by modern science. They are failings of the human spirit. Lindsay-Abaire uses amnesia, progeria, and carpal tunnel syndrome merely as symptoms of these failings, perhaps even as symbols of malaise, but he really hits the nail on the head, by illuminating for us that far more debilitating condition, the heart-wrenching tyranny of familial neglect.

“Kimberly Akimbo” will continue in the Village Theatre at 233 Front Street, in Danville. Performance times are Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m., now through Saturday, February 6th. Call 314-3400 for ticket and reservation information. Tickets range between $22 and $25 each and can be purchased on line at http://www.villagetheatreshows.com/ .

Gilbert and Sullivan's poetical masterpiece - - "Patience"!

One of my perennial favorite musical theatrical companies that lighten up our lives with fun and fluff is the Lamplighters Music Theatre who present fully staged, grandly conceived and superbly designed Gilbert and Sullivan Musical Operettas and bring them right here to the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek. In Two weeks, between January 29th and 31st, they will be returning with Gilbert and Sullivan’s very silly but brilliantly and artfully directed “Patience”.

Patience, or Bunthorne’s Bride is a willy-nilly extraordinarily silly farcial tale of the life of poets as they were perceived in England in the early 1800’s. This was at the height of the aesthetic movement which emphasized aesthetic values over the moral or social themes in literature, decorative arts or the fine arts and interior design. There was a great and prolific outpouring of poetic writing, composition and design during this period; many thought it was self-indulgent and empty, with little substantive creativity or meaning. It became the bunt of many jokes and was taken to task in works such as Bunthorne’s Bride, the story of twenty love-sick maidens supposedly madly in love with the aesthetically inclined poet, Reginald Bunthorne.

The story takes place in front of Bunthorne’s Castle where a bevy of beautiful maidens are swooning at every verse uttered by the handsome Bunthorne as he passes amoung them. While all these maidens profess their love, Bunthorne confesses that his aesthecism is a sham and that he really loves a local milk-maid by the name of Patience. Patience, on the other hand admits that she has never loved another, other than her distant aunt, and most especially dislikes Bunthorne.

Another young man, handsome and well dressed, comes upon the scene by the name of Archibald Grosvenor, who turns out to be a childhood friend of miss Patience. There really isn’t much of a plot, but a competition ensues between the two “affected” poets, Grosvenor and Bunthorne, for the hand of Patience. In the mean time, there is a sub-plot where all the maids who are chasing the poets, were formerly engaged to members of the 35th Royal British Dragoon Guards. The Guards have returned from a tour of duty to find their precious fiancé’s enraptured with the Aestheticism of the day and are totally dismayed - - but not defeated!

Patience, or Bunthorne’s Bride is a comic opera in two acts with music by Arthur Sullivan and the libretto by W.S. Gilbert. The music and lyrics are to me some of the most enjoyable of any of the G & S operettas. This production is seldom done, perhaps because many people are not familiar with the Aestheticism movement in history. At the time it was written, his artistic “Aesthetic” movement was so popular, and also so easy to ridicule as a meaningless fad, that it made Patience a huge hit.

It was first performed at the Opera Comique in London in 1881 and went on to become the second longest running operetta ever written by Gilbert and Sullivan. The show was so popular that the Opera Comique was unable to handle the crowds and the impresario who brought Gilbert and Sullivan together, D’Oyly Carte, had to build a new theatre, the famous Savoy theatre of London. As a little fun little side note on history, it was the first theatrical production in the world to be entirely illuminated by electric light!

The acting is really quite superb with the main characters providing pluperfect portraits of the characters. The very lovely Patience is played well by Jenniver Ashworth, who’s incredible operatic voice simply takes the audience captive. Reginald Bunthorne is played delightfully by F. Lawrence Ewing and Archibald Grosvenor is played equaly well by Chris Uzelac. The three main military men, members of the Dragoon Guard, Colonel Caverly (Charles Martin), Major Mergatroyd (Nathan Kondrat) and Lieutenant and Duke of Dunstable (Nathan Smucker) are absolutely delightful. One of the ladies following the poets perpetually, especially Bunthorne, is the Lady Jane, a somewhat older but wiser lady, is played superbly by Katy Daniel.

Everything about Patience is outstanding, from the costumes by Lauren Howard and Melissa Wortman, to the exquisite set design by Peter Crompton, to the lighting design by Rober Ted Anderson. In this production, I absolutely have to mention wig and hair design as well, crafted and coifed by Rande Harris. If you like Gilbert and Sullivan, I am sure you will get a kick out of “Patience”!

This production will open in Walnut Creek at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts on Friday 29th January, 2010 - 8pm, again on Saturday 30th January, 2010 - 2pm & 8pm, and closes on Sunday 31st January, 2010 - 2pm. Call 943-7469 or visit their web page at http://www.lesherartscenter.org/ for more information.