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Theater Review (LA): Crumble by Sheila Callaghan

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Originally staged at LATC in 2005, Sheila Callahan’s surreal comedy/drama returns to Los Angeles in an atmospheric, well-mounted production.

Crumble (Lay Me Down Justin Timberlake) tells the story of Janice, a withdrawn 11-year old girl, and Clara, her insecure and overindulgent mother, both trying to cope with the loss of the loving father and husband who died in a tragic ornament-hanging accident the prior Christmas.

Crumble castJanice, who was once a happy and playful child, has become a recluse with an unhealthy obsession with Justin Timberlake, shuttering herself away in her bedroom with her dolls, rarely eating or even showering. Meanwhile Clara, a professional chef, overcompensates by preparing elaborate gourmet meals that go to waste and indulging her daughter’s every whim, no matter how bizarre. Clara’s only confidante is her sister, Barbara, who is unmarried and lives with 57 cats.

Another important character is actually The Apartment itself, a massive structure that has fallen into ruin after the death of Clara’s husband. It groans painfully as it crumbles and frequently begs to be repaired. And Janice’s idealization of Justin Timberlake appears to her in her room, arousing her adolescent sexuality and giving her the instructions for building a homemade bomb. Clara has her own masculine fantasy: Harrison Ford in his Indiana Jones persona arrives to reassure her that she’s doing everything right with Janice, and to administer a comforting massage.

Good performances are essential for putting over quirky material like this, and most everyone is up to the task. Stephen Kline originated the role of The Apartment, and he’s quite at home playing a structure that uses its own features (clattering radiator, squeaking hinges) in an attempt to communicate with its inhabitants.

Shelly Hacco is believable as the precocious but unhappy Janice, whose ostracization at school and unhappiness at home have driven her to live in a primitive, hallucinatory state. Julianna Bolles is fine as the well-meaning but ineffectual Aunt Barbara. Bill Doherty Jr. successfully manages triple duty as Jessica’s late father Ford and Timberlake (which is hilarious). Heidi Rhodes’ Clara is the weak link, unfortunately. She often seems to be reciting from memory rather than delivering a fully-formed character.

Director Ronnie Marmo keeps the action nicely choreographed over Danny Cistone’s sprawling set, adding nice touches such as ghostly apparitions appearing at the windows. Cistone also provides an atmospheric sound design.

Playwright Sheila Callaghan has an ear for the off-kilter dialogue and plot development, and her character of The Apartment is the play’s most inspired creation, allowing her to give voice to some of the piece’s most prosaic passages. Not surprisingly, Callaghan has since gone on to serve as writer and producer for Showtime’s Shameless, one of the most offbeat shows on television.

Crumble (Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake) plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 6 p.m. through May 18 at Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Boulevard. Tickets can be obtained online or by calling (323) 960-5068.

Photo by Crystal Mandel

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About Kurt Gardner

Writer, critic and marketing expert whose passion for odd culture knows no bounds.
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