- Crumble (lay me down Justin Timberlake)
- by Sheila Callaghan
- Directed by Shirley Serotsky
- Produced by Catalyst Theater Company
- Reviewed by Leslie Weisman
This may be the shortest, sharpest – and the most seemingly effortlessly poetic – play you’ll see outside of the Capital Fringe Festival. Like some of those memorable mini- quasi- master sketches, “Crumble,” in a little more than an hour, draws an astute and affecting portrait of two sisters; the preteen daughter /niece whose mercurial moods and needs whet their differences; and the ways in which inanimate objects can serve as a silent sounding board for their, and by extension, our unarticulated fears and desires, and as a springboard to help us identify and at last, deal with them. Despite the fantastical premise of the plot, the players inhabit their characters fully, making them dramatically believable, almost allegorical.
Staged at the intimate Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, an ideal venue for this deeply focused one-acter, “Crumble” quickly catches both eye and ear with a set built of slatted walls fronted by decaying brown fiberboard, the blinds throwing angular light on the compact stage. The clack-clack of rhythmic percussion complements the click-click of the hooked pole which a fedora’ed man in black (the perfectly expressionless Jason Stiles, whose subtle changes in manner and tone will be all the more striking for being set against a foil of utter blankness) taps against an alcove. In another room, a pre-teen girl (Casie Platt, in a bravura performance that will have you alternately reaching for her throat and your Kleenex) throws stuffed animals against the wall of her room, while in the kitchen, a woman (Elizabeth H. Richards, who will masterfully turn neurosis into vulnerability, and with it, the audience’s potential scorn into earned respect), taps her fork against the plate in a stylized, metrical approximation of eating.
The man is, he tells us, the Wall; he will also become, among other things, the House, the Floor, the Wallpaper, the Closet, and at one point the Christmas Tree (for which he obediently holds a bulb in his mouth, arms awkwardly akimbo, holding aloft a string of lights). He is, in short, the Apartment, who solemnly warns us that the actions he is going to take are necessary and inevitable; he has no choice. While we may regard his assertion with some dubiety, it is only later that we recognize it as a clue to what could be seen as one of the play’s overarching themes: the necessity not only of taking actions, but of taking responsibility for them, and ownership of them.
The woman is the girl’s mother, and laments her difficult relationship with her daughter, Janice, who seems torn between the terrible twos and the pangs of teenage angst, to both her and her mother’s general torment. Mother’s sister Barbara (the superb Kathleen Akerley, as everyone’s nightmare of the meddling, clueless sister cum Therapist from Hell) sympathizes and begs to be allowed to help, citing as irrefutable evidence of her experience in this area her successful “motherhood” with the countless (as we later learn, 57) cats who share her home. Mother- a gourmet cook who tries with limited success to hide her visceral distaste for her sister’s habit of eating tuna out of a can, and prepares extravagantly gourmet meals which her disdainful daughter refuses to eat – reluctantly agrees to let her try.
Into this somewhat toxic mix come two dream men, both played by the protean Eric Messner, responding to the invocations of mother and daughter. For Janice, he will be (no spoilers here, given the title) her idol Justin Timberlake, who bursts upon the scene in a blaze of charis-maleness; for Mother, who is trying to untangle her own complex psychological web, it will be her own personal movie-star hero (Messner again, in another creditable, enjoyable likeness, greeted by the audience with appreciative cheers and chuckles), who enters to the symphonic strains of the theme music from one of his signature films. Unlike her daughter, however, Mother seeks not a hero, but a confessor who will help her live with her decisions and the guilt she feels, rightly or wrongly, for their consequences.
The Apartment, in all its forms and iconographies, is omnipresent: full of advice and demands, threats and suggestions, asides and cogent remarks. “You just don’t enjoy me,” he sighs with regret to Mother. “Nor,” he adds pointedly, looking at Janice, “do you enjoy each other.” As the play comes to its shocking end, though, they will: through the pain of the daughter’s destructive, unexpectedly self-destructive, ultimately healing, and – maybe? – even redemptive act.
- Running Time: 1:10
- When: Thru June 7. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm. Saturday matinees at 2 pm. No evening performance Saturday, May 17.
- Where: Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, 545 7th Street, SE, Washington, DC 20003
- Tickets: $10