The walls have eyes…and ears and a mouth and arms and legs in Crumble (Lay Me Down Justin Timberlake), Sheila Callaghan’s surreal family drama, now playing at Sacred Fools Theatre.

Brendan Hunt gives a bravura performances as said walls, windows, and floorboards in the role of The Apartment, the crumbling domicile where an eleven-year old girl and her mother find escape from reality in fantasies of ‘N Sync’s Timberlake and Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones mode.

Regular StageSceneLA readers might quite accurately surmise this to be a tad too fringey for this reviewer’s theatrical tastes, and several somewhat problematic performances work against audience involvement in mother and daughter’s plight. Still, under Jeremy Aluma’s imaginative direction, Crumble is a visual stunner with enough engaging moments to make it worth catching.

Playwright Callaghan keeps us guessing about what sends preteen Janice (Kate Wronowski) and her 30something mom Clara (Carrie Keranen) into their fantasy sequences, though it’s clear from the concern expressed by Clara’s cat lady sister Barbara (Alyssa Preston) that all is not well in Apartmentland.


The emergence of the dilapidated apartment itself, quite literally through the worn-down floor in the play’s opening sequence, cues us in from the get-go that we will be in the land of the surreal, as does Callaghan’s often disjointed dialog which has The Apartment soliloquizing, Janice talking through the voices of her Barbie and baby dolls, and Justin and Indiana appearing in daughter and mother’s daydreams before making their exits by ascending quite literally through the rafters.

The Apartment is by far the best reason to catch Crumble (Lay Me Down Justin Timberlake), both in Hunt’s quirky, quicksilver performance and in its non-human manifestation in Stacy Walters’ extraordinary scenic design, which Douglas Gabrielle lights both from above and from without, through thin translucent plastic sections of its decaying walls.

Crumble comes most vividly to life whenever the charmingly charismatic John Halbach appears, first in winningly hip-hoppy Justin Timberlake mode and later as a swashbuckling Harrison Ford/Indiana Jones.

Other performances are more problematic. Keranen gives Clara a spunky appeal, but her performance could benefit greatly from a more palpable sense of ongoing pain hiding just under the surface. Eleven-year-old Janice may well have been written to be played by an adult actress, but for this reviewer at least, the choice doesn’t work. As hard as Wronowski tries to make us believe that she is a precocious-to-obnoxious tween (and she does an admirable job of it), I couldn’t help wondering how much more powerful Crumble would be with an actress of Janice’s tender years and accompanying vulnerability in the role. Preston does subtly moving work as Barbara, but it can be overly subtle, a kind of acting for the camera that seems too low-key (and low volume) for the Sacred Fools’ relatively large dimensions. That being said, Preston’s emotional moments in the play’s last third are some of the evening’s best.

Christy Hauptman has designed some terrific costumes, with special snaps to Janice’s kidswear, Justin and Indiana’s iconic outfits, and most particularly The Apartment’s “distressed” duds, which make him/it seem quite literally to be part of the ramshackle walls, windows, and floors. Daniel Hoal’s excellent sound design aids greatly in enhancing the play’s surreal mood, and Lisa Anne Nicolai gets high marks for Crumble’s many worn out/worn down properties. I’m not sure whom to credit for insuring that the parts of the apartment that fall down from ceiling to floor do so precisely on cue, but he/she gets a high five for ingenuity.

Chloe Weaver is videographer, Andrew Amani fight rigger, and Dave Knutson master carpenter. Jeremy Aldridge is producer, and Aluma and Kyle Garcia are associate producers. Heatherlynn Gonzalez is stage manager.

If Crumble (Lay Me Down Justin Timberlake) doesn’t succeed as well as it would with some performance adjustments, and if playwright Callaghan’s style here is considerably less to this reviewer’s tastes than her previously reviewed Lascivious Something, the visual imagination shown by director Aluma and Hunt’s uniquely watchable performance make it worth a look-see by adventurous theatergoers.

Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
November 25, 2011
Photos: Ed Krieger

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