Old Tales Retangled

'Fifth' Still Has Kick, but 'Kimberly' Is All Akimbo

One can't be sure that's the moral, though, since the friends who rescue Ken by their betrayal have motives as personal as their opponents, and Ken might be just as happy with either party winning the day. The play's close counters the Inuit tale with a sort of future folktale, a sci-fi story taped by a speech-impaired local boy whom Ken has been teaching, in which space travelers find nothing of note in the universe, and are obliged to return to Earth, where "it was up to them to become all the things they had imagined they would find." Including monsters, one imagines, as well as saviors.

The quietude of Bonney's production, which steeps the play's gaudy mix of flavors in the dry wine of retrospect, is both persuasive and slightly unnerving. Circle Rep, where Marshall W. Mason directed most of Wilson's premieres, espoused what it called "lyrical naturalism," which never stopped the action in a play like this from brimming over with comic speed and zest. There's no lack of either in Bonney's production, but there's also no overspill; here in the belt-tightening aughts, we're more careful to keep our naturalism within lyrical bounds. Some of the excellent performances—Moss-Bachrach's blankly gentle Wes, Posey's calculatingly capricious Gwen—have the feel of the originals slightly scaled down; Harbour's tough, driving John even sounds eerily, at moments, like Jonathan Hogan's. Others seem creatively updated: Gilsig's June, her angular body locked in rage, suggests a streamlined Joyce Reehling, while Gladis's Jed gives hints of the openly gay person Jeff Daniels never quite conveyed.

Only three performers put their own distinct impress on the roles. Robert Sean Leonard's Ken is the first one I've seen to catch the character's passive-aggressive tactics, using the incessant wisecracks to ward off both sympathy and hostility—and looking far lonelier than his predecessors as a result. Pamela Payton-Wright, seemingly uncomfortable in Act I (few actresses really like talking to spools of copper wire), catches Aunt Sally's tone and tempo in Act II and runs with it, using a down-home toughness utterly unlike Helen Stenborg's soft indomitability, but just as valid. And 18-year-old Sarah Lord catches the travails of Shirley's addled adolescence with the professionalism of an 80-year-old skilled hand.

Posey and Leonard in Fifth of July: another look at the left
photo: Rahav Segev/photopass.com
Posey and Leonard in Fifth of July: another look at the left


Fifth of July
By Lanford Wilson
Signature Theatre
555 West 42nd Street

Kimberly Akimbo
By David Lindsay-Abaire
Manhattan Theatre Club
131 West 55th Street

A teenager with a strange ailment that turns her into an 80-year-old is the heroine of David Lindsay-Abaire's Kimberly Akimbo. This should produce enough psychological strangeness for one play, but as in Fuddy Meers, Lindsay-Abaire doesn't stop there: The girl with the strange condition has to be surrounded by a wacky family which is a set of strange conditions, and haunted by a schoolmate attracted to her strange condition. Result: The heroine disappears, left with nothing to do but react to the surrounding wacky chaos, so that Marylouise Burke, who plays her, can only exploit her appealing quirks until they harden into mannerisms—which they were already starting to do in Fuddy Meers.

The pity of it is that Lindsay-Abaire, when not trying so hard to write wackily, can often write very well: The brief boy-girl scenes here, and some of the father's resentful outbursts, have both charm and the ring of truth. But David Petrarca's production, from its sunburst clock to the strip-mall flicker of its scene change lights, abets the wackiness so heavily that truth, charm, and even acting disappear. When an actress as good as Jodie Markell, or one as gamely promising as Ana Gasteyer, runs so quickly into monotony, you know something's gone wrong. John Gallagher Jr.'s rendering of the boy, and a few of Jake Weber's blasts as the father, are the closest the performance gets to earth. Otherwise, these space cadets are still out looking for the saving grace that Wilson found long ago.

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