By Dave Begel Contributing Writer Published Sep 20, 2013 at 10:29 AM

Kimberly Levaco is a lot like all the other 16-year-old girls in her class.

She likes playing games. She likes to boss her parents around. She pouts with the best of them and she’ll laugh, but only if it’s really funny.

The difference between Kimberly and all the other girls, however, is a jarring one.

She looks just like an 82-year-old woman.

She suffers from a disease that makes her body age 4.5 times faster than normal.

That’s the situation of "Kimberly Akimbo," the sparkling and unusual play by David Lindsey-Abaire that opens the season and the life of a brand new theater company in town, The Splinter Group.

When you want to talk about dysfunction, you can just post a picture of the family in this play. But underneath all the craziness – a drunken father, an injury/disease-prone, self-absorbed, unfaithful mother, an aunt who has both a criminal past and a criminal future and a harmless and curious classmate – we find nuggets of gold and hearts of warmth in the most unexpected places.

Rick Pendzich, who plays the father, delivers a performance so nuanced and so genuine that you find it impossible to hate him, even as he avoids his family in favor of a barstool in a tavern. His occasional explosions of vitriolic temper only serve as a stark contrast to his belief in himself, as he says, "as a good guy."

Pendzich is at the absolute top of his game in this play. As he continues to mature and grow as an actor and as a man, he will make it worthwhile to go see him in any play he’s in.

Diane Lane plays Kimberly, a tough task to act like a 16-year-old and look like you are 82. If there is one thing wanting in this production it would be a starker, more defined contrast between those two women. But, especially in the second act when Kimberly begins to finally discover family secrets, her emotional range soars. Lane is a marvelous singer who has graced musical venues for a long time and this is her first non-musical foray.

Linnea Koeppel deserves a special mention as Kimberly’s mother, who cares about little else in this world except herself and her afflictions. At one point she is pregnant and near delivery while also having "carpel tunnel syndrome, a broken leg, cancer, diabetes and a chipped tooth." Who knows what she’s really got.

The remaining two members of the cast are both up to the demands.

Ryan Krueger plays Kimberly’s nerdy classmate who is trying to figure out a way to kiss her, and Laura Monagle proves that her life of larceny does not prevent her from being a heady influence in Kimberly’s life.

In the end, this play is about both heartbreak and hope, with laughs and even some tears thrown in for good measure.

The Splinter Group is the baby of Jim Farrell who has taken on the task of building a theater company from the ground up. David Cecsarini at Next Act Theatre has proven it can be done, but it’s a lot of work.

He directed this play and if the rest of the productions match this quality the theater panorama in Milwaukee will be much richer.

Credits: Director, Jim Farrell; Assistant Director, Jake Brockmann; Lighting Designer, Ross Zentner; Set Design, Jim Farrell.

"Kimberly Akimbo" runs through Oct. 5 at the Marian Center, 3211 S. Lake Dr.

Dave Begel Contributing Writer

With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.

He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.

This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.

Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.