Off-Broadway: `Betty Rules’

Corrections or additions?

These reviews by Simon Saltzman were prepared for the March 12,

2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All

rights reserved.

New York Review: `Kimberly Akimbo

In "Kimberly Akimbo," 62-year-old Mary Louise

Burke plays the role of Kimberly Levaco, a 16-year-old who suffers

from Progeria. This is a disease that ages the body four times faster

than normal. An acclaimed interpreter of playwright David

Lindsay-Abaire’s

world of delightfully dysfunctional characters ("Fuddy Mears,"

"Wonder of the World"), Burke, is now inspiringly cast as

an audacious and spirited teenager who has aged prematurely.

Notwithstanding

her obvious state of maturity, it is Burke’s ability to reside within

a teenager’s state of mind and body that makes her performance

something

to cherish.

I won’t give away how Akimbo becomes affixed to Kimberly’s name

in this touching but also loony play that deals not only with aging,

but with the need to live life to the fullest. While not as startling

as "Fuddy Meers," or as fantastical as "Wonder of the

World," "Kimberly Akimbo" continues to reveal this

writer’s

flair for baring the deep pain and eccentric behavior of ordinary

people.

However, it is the romantic needs of the precocious but wise Kimberly

and Jeff (John Gallagher), the nerdy teenage boy, a member of the

"Junior Wordsmiths of America," who becomes more

than a friend, that beguile us. It is for Kimberly’s skewed family

members to set in motion the circumstances that will prompt Kimberly

and Jeff to follow through on an outrageous robbery scheme.

This is engineered by Kimberly’s prodigal Aunt Debra (Ana Gasteyer),

a tough and transient ne’er-do-well with criminal intentions, who

invites herself back into the New Jersey home of her pregnant sister

Pattie (Jodie Markell). and Buddy (Jake Weber), her alcoholic

brother-in-law.

Markell is persuasive as the pathetic accident-prone Pattie, whose

desperate need to have a healthy baby is offset by her refusal to

see Kimberly as an object of love and affection.

Also effective is Weber as the ineffectual Buddy, whose concern for

Kimberly is most poignantly revealed when he warns Kimberly (who has

survived a heart attack) about having sex with Jeff. "What are

you worrying about," she asks him. "I went through menopause

four years ago." David Petrarca’s direction is as fluid and clean

as Robert Brill’s set design which spotlights a clock whose hands

are shown racing out of control. Jason Robert Brown’s incidental music

nicely underscores this emotionally rewarding, very funny play.

Rating: Three stars (You Won’t Feel Cheated).

— Simon Saltzman

Kimberly Akimbo, Manhattan Theater Club at City Center

Stage 1, 131 West 55 Street, New York. $60. Tickets 212-581-1212.

Runs to April 6.

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Off-Broadway: `Betty Rules’

At the Zipper Theater (located in what once was an old

zipper factory), the all-girl band "Betty" is zipping though

an inventive program of invigorating music and flashy memoirs in the

sing-it-all and tell-it-all musical "Betty Rules." The

audience,

armed with beer and free popcorn sits back comfortably in tiers of

cushy automobile seats as the trio, consisting of electric cellist

Amy Ziff, her sister guitarist Elizabeth Ziff, and bassist Alyson

Palmer, take the driver’s seat with assist from back-up guitar Tony

Salvatore and drummer Colin Brooks.

This entertaining show, written and driven by this ego and angst group

of cult fame, is a high-speed journey that follows the curves, spills,

and spins of their rise from abject obscurity to modest fame over

the 17 years they have been in the live music scene.

The band "Betty" has toured nationally and internationally

playing such venues as Madison Square Garden, Carnegie Hall, and the

Kennedy Center, among other venues. After listening to their

pleasingly

harmonic music and audacious lyrics (none of it, however, familiar

to these ears), I do wonder why they never made it to the top of the

charts. But their amusingly wicked stories, bolstered with personal

and provocative insights into what drives and discourages the

professional

performer, are flavored by the obligatory influence of bad management,

the presence of mothers, and the rush of sex, drugs, and rock and

roll.

While Amy is easily seduced by the promises of promoters, and Lynn

seeks release in groupie therapy, Alyson finds lasting love and

marriage

with the group’s long-time guitarist Salvatore. It’s not all that

profound, but still this gritty mix of backstage confessions and a

risk-taking concert plays out like sparks of electrical graffiti.

Calling itself "the exception to the musical," "Betty

Rules" is, without a doubt, exceptional.

Rating: Three stars (You Won’t Feel Cheatetd).

— S.S.

Betty Rules, Zipper Theater, 336 West 37 Street, New York.

$29.90 to $49.90. Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200.


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