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Kimberly Akimbo and the Race Against Time at Country Playhouse

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The setup: "Quirky" might be one's first reaction to David Lindsay-Abaire's impressionistic view of modern family life, but give it time. Time is also what all the characters want, because they're fast running out of it. None more so than heroine Kimberly, whose sixteenth birthday may be her last.

The execution: Kimberly suffers from a rare genetic disease that makes her age four and a half times faster than normal. So at 16, she appears geriatric (and thus is played by actresses of "a certain age.") This theatrical device hooks us right from the start. We watch an old lady -- here, the actress Lee Raymond in a glorious and revelatory performance -- be a teenager who's already lived through menopause. Talk about time bending.

Slogging through the trials of adolescence is nothing compared to wading through her wildly, comically dysfunctional, lower-middle-class family. She handles them like a pro. Kimberly is the oldest person at home, in all ways.

Her dad Buddy (James Reed) is a schlubby gas station attendant who dreams of seeing Pamplona and running with the bulls. "Wouldn't that be cool?" he confesses, knowing he'll never get there. All his choices are gone. Mom Pattie (Amanda Baird) is a hypochondriac shrew, her hands bandaged after recent surgery, who has to be fed by others. She bawls in a profane rant, rubbing her pregnant stomach, waiting for the birth of her "normal" child. With Lindsay-Abaire's constantly shifting surprises, we will later learn who the father is and why the family bid a hasty retreat from Secaucus. A bright side to Kimberly's rapidly fading life is classmate Jeff (Rolando Cantu), a nerdy loner whose own family life is on a downward par with Kimberly's. He's a whiz at anagrams and Dungeons and Dragons and is more than ready to give Kimberly her first kiss. In a delightful twist, here comes Aunt Debra (Gina Williamson), a perpetual con artist and felon who needs money to run away to Florida. She doesn't have much time, either, or soon she'll have no time at all. She comes up with the bank scam that has Kimberly impersonate an old lady.

Except for the inordinate amount of time necessary to switch out the sets, which stops the play's dream-like flow like a busted watch, director Aimee Small lets Lindsay-Abaire's little drama play out with delicate shading. There'd be no play at all without Ms. Raymond's finely detailed Kimberly, who never lets life -- or her freaky family -- get her down. Eternally optimistic, make that fatalistic, she plows through life's increasing disappointments with sparkle and grit. She is the face of youth, regardless of the wrinkles: life's or hers.

And Mr. Reed is quite superb as the Everyman who just can't make a go of it. He wants to, and in his confessional monologue that starts the second act, he lays out his wish to be a regular, good guy and father. He promises to give up drinking if that's what Kim wants, but we know that promise won't be kept. That he tries and fails is just the normal way of life.

The verdict: These losers try to be regular people, but fate's against them. So is time. The scenes build to a sweet little ending -- Kimberly gets her wish of driving through Six Flags' safari park. The last time we see her, head resting on Jeff's shoulder in dad's junk heap of a car, she and Jeff are heading south to Florida. We know they'll never make it, but for a very short time, these youngsters have all the time in the world.

Pulitzer Prize winner David Lindsay-Abaire's provocative and anarchic comedy runs through April 27 at Country Playhouse, 12802 Queensbury. Purchase tickets online at countryplayhouse.org or call 713-467-4497. $12-$22.

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