Ch-ch-ch-changes

Metamorphoses is a wet dreamscape, and Kimberly Akimbo has a skewed charm

Indeed, the world has not been fair to Kimberly (Sally Eaton). She suffers from an abnormally accelerated physical condition whereby her body ages four and a half times more quickly than it should. When she was four, she looked eighteen. When she's twenty, she'll look ninety -- if she makes it to twenty. The life expectancy for those with this infliction is sixteen years, and this week marks Kim's sixteenth birthday, which of course her self-absorbed family forgets.

For if Kim is physically mature beyond her years, her parents are mentally immature. Dad (B. Weller) is little more than a good-natured, hard-drinking loser. Mom (Pamela Reckamp) is a pregnant neurotic, a hypochondriac incapable of taking care of herself; more often than not, Kimberly must mother her own mom. Then there's Aunt Debra (Carrie Hegdahl), con artist extraordinaire. Eager to move to Miami, Debra has a new get-rich-quick scheme. When her niece suggests that Auntie get a job instead and go to Miami later, Debra explodes, "I don't have time for later! My whole life has been later!"

But clearly, the only person in this rogue's gallery who can't wait for later is Kim herself. The specter of imminent death hangs over this play like the Secret Word on Groucho Marx's 1950s television show, You Bet Your Life ("a common word, something you see every day"). No one wants to utter this dreaded word. Yet when Kim holds up an ivory cube and says, "Look at this dice, Dad," Pop is only too eager to point that that "the singular of dice is die."

James McKay as Phaeton (foreground) and Manu Narayan as Apollo pool their resources in Metamorphoses
Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
James McKay as Phaeton (foreground) and Manu Narayan as Apollo pool their resources in Metamorphoses

Details

Metamorphoses- By Mary Zimmerman. Performed by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through Oct. 10 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road. Call 314-968-4925.

Kimberly Akimbo- By David Lindsay-Abaire. Performed by HotHouse Theatre Company through Sept. 27 at the ArtLoft Theatre, 1529 Washington Avenue. Call 314-534-1111.

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Playwright David Lindsay-Abaire is no stranger to black comedy. Because his earlier play Fuddy Meers also found humor in the dysfunctional (Fuddy Meers will be staged at St. Louis Community College-Florissant Valley November 14-22), some folks dismiss Lindsay-Abaire as a one-trick pony. But this play is not to be dismissed. It is sharply written, tightly constructed and it moves like a house ablaze. Many comedies are so funny you laugh till you cry; here, you laugh till you think.

As Kim, Eaton has the role of a lifetime. Consider the journey she must travel: She is an older actress portraying a sixteen-year-old who has already passed menopause. And when the plot's machinations compel the teen to put on a disguise and pretend to be old -- when, in effect, Eaton must pretend to be onstage who she really is off -- the viewer is transported to a poignant Cloud-cuckooland worthy of Pirandello. This is Freaky Friday with real freaks. Eaton develops a lovely rapport with Kevin O'Brien, who portrays an ungainly, anagram-obsessed classmate who is allowed entry into Kimberly's askew world.

Kim doesn't want to romp with the gods. All she craves is what most of us take for granted: normality. In a moment of overwhelming frustration, she pleads with her mother, "Can we just be normal for a few minutes?" But in Kimberly Akimbo, normality is as elusive as quicksilver, for which the viewer can be extremely grateful.

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