Friday, December 10, 2021

Short Takes: December III - Theater

Reviews: Kimberly Akimbo, Selling Kabul, Is There Still Sex in the City? 

Kimberly Akimbo (c) Ahron R. Foster

 Theater: Kimberly Akimbo 
At Atlantic Theatre Company


Kimberly Levaco is about to turn 16, which is a big deal for most kids, but it’s doubly important for her since that’s the age doctors didn’t believe she would ever reach. Kimberly has a rare condition where her body grows old faster, so at almost 16, she looks 70. If this sounds like it’s going to be a heavy drama, well, you don’t know playwright David Lindsay-Abaire. His play was one of the funniest shows I saw in 2003 when I saw it at Manhattan Theatre Club. But the current show at the Atlantic is his musical adaptation of that play, and it may be even funnier. He wrote the book and the songs (with composer Jeanine Tesori) and the show seems to have a sharper, more optimistic spirit. Jessica Stone’s direction is bright and airy, and the cast is uniformly excellent. But, attention must be paid to the elegant Victoria Clark playing a convincingly awkward teen as Kimberly, the almost untouchable Bonnie Milligan as Kimberly’s grifter aunt, and making an impressive off-Broadway debut is Justin Cooley as Kimberly’s only friend Seth. Considering the subject matter, the second half does fall into some familiar disease-of-the-week tropes, but it recovers nicely. This is probably the first great musical I’ve seen in the post-Covid era. 

Selling Kabul (c) Joan Marcus

Theater: Selling Kabul 
At Playwrights Horizons 

You don’t get many action thrillers in theaters, and I would be selling Sylvia Khoury’s play short if that’s the only adjective I use to describe it, but I haven’t been this tense in a theater since Martin McDonagh’s Broadway play, “The Pillowman.” That play is set in a fictional repressive government society. “Selling Kabul” is set in the not-too-distant past of 2013 in Kabul, Afghanistan, in which Taroon, an Afghani interpreter (Dario Ladani Sanchez) for the US Army, is left to fend for himself after the American military withdrawal. He is hiding in secret in the apartment of his sister (Marjan Neshat) and her husband (Mattico David) as he awaits the birth of his child. But shady forces are descending on this apartment and the tense direction by Tyne Rafaeli is constant throughout, even when characters are just quietly sewing. This fictional play has tones of anger, sadness and helplessness similar to the current critically acclaimed documentary, “Flee.” There are times when you can feel the playwright’s manipulations during some questionable plot turns, but it all culminates towards an effective and harrowing climax. The all-around superb acting ensemble (rounded out by Francis Benhamou) keeps everything grounded. A riveting night of theater.

Is There Still Sex in the City (c) Joan Marcus

Theater: Is There Still Sex in the City? 
At the Daryl Roth Theater 

Candace Bushnell, the star of her own one-woman show based on her book, “Is There Sex in the City?” answers her phone in the show with “Good news only!” It’s one of the few genuinely amusing quirks Bushnell peppers throughout what I would categorize as a “Wikipedia play” – a run-through of her greatest hits without going any deeper. Case in point, Bushnell, the successful creator of the “Sex and the City” column, name- or photo-drops Mr. Big’s identity as well as her ballet dancer ex-husband’s, which is all in her wiki, but she only teases the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer who invites an early 20’s Bushnell, new to Manhattan, to move in with him (the only clue she drops is he lived across the street from Gloria Vanderbilt). Although the show is mostly a monologue of peppy can-do optimism (she believes she will win a Pulitzer one day, like her first roommate), Bushnell occasionally performs little skit interludes in which she talks to her Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha. Of course, those are not their real names, but anything to remind the audience of the hit HBO show and movies, the better for her. We see multiple scenes from the HBO show that give the audience the laugh of recognition they were hoping for from this production. Or they were probably high on the $18 cosmos they bought at the concession stand. Even though this is a one-woman show with many costume changes, there are two cameo appearances that steal the show by just being themselves. If only Bushnell was as natural as they were. The timing of her show coincides nicely with the new SATC spinoff series “And Just Like That.” Bushnell may never win a Pulitzer, but she’s one smart cookie. 

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