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Young at heart 

Actor's Express' Kimberly Akimbo

Kimberly Levaco (Mary Lynn Owen), the title character of Actor's Express' Kimberly Akimbo, is the kind of teenager who's more grown-up than her parents. Although Kimberly just wants a normal family life in blue-collar New Jersey, her irresponsible father, Buddy (John Alcott), drinks heavily and skips family get-togethers, while her mother, Pattie (Tess Malis Kincaid), combines hypochondria, hostility and self-absorption to a staggering degree.

The twist is that Kimberly also looks more mature than her mom and dad. Born 16 years earlier with accelerated aging syndrome, Kimberly appears to be four-and-a-half times older than her natural age. Unexpectedly humorous and big-hearted, Kimberly Akimbo is kind of like the similar-themed Robin Williams movie Jack, except that it doesn't suck.

Playwright David Lindsay-Abaire specializes in characters with mental impairments or compulsions, and Kimberly Akimbo is no exception. Hugely pregnant Pattie just had carpal tunnel surgery, and her bandages make useless stumps of her hands. Most unstable of all is Aunt Debra (Rachel Roberts), a homeless petty criminal with a larcenous scheme to exploit the child's illness -- but at least she remembered Kimberly's birthday.

Director Jasson Minadakis' production features a clever touch that conveys the vibe of typical teen life that Kimberly cannot experience; nubile chicks in girlish outfits move the props between scenes, accompanied by female pop hits. Kimberly bonds with another high school outcast, Jeff (Jeremy Aggers), who becomes a kind of boyfriend. With a cracking voice, Aggers plays both a superbly nervous straight man to Kimberly's family and a sensitive nerd in his own right. A Dungeons & Dragons game becomes both a hilarious comic interlude and an effectively serious moment for confronting mortality.

Such bizarre characters could inspire schticky, over-the-top acting, but the cast, directed by Minadakis, generally behaves like they don't realize how funny they are. Owen may not be as elderly as Kimberly's supposed to be, but her fascinating performance fuses youth and age like alchemy. Shrugging "Whateva!" to parental complaints, Owen literally seems like an alienated high-schooler in a decrepit body. Since Kimberly's already as old as her life expectancy, coming of age and facing death turn out to be opposite sides of the same coin. Thanks in no small part to Owen and Aggers' work, Kimberly Akimbo transforms the grim facets of the premise into an expression of hope and love against the odds.

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