Most adolescents are convinced that adults will never understand what they're going through. In Sheila Callaghan's Crumble (Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake), the youth in question is absolutely right. Screaming obscenities, serving bleach to the dolls at her tea parties, and refusing to wash, Janice is indeed odder than most eleven-year-olds, no matter what her aunt says about a natural phase where a girl is thinking only about a boy "laying his boy hands on all your new parts." But then, Janice lost her dad a year ago in a freak Christmas accident, so it's to be expected that she's a little off. What's odd is that nobody seems to understand why that would be so, except the spirit of the dilapidated apartment she shares with her mom Clara, who's not doing so hot herself, what with the panic attacks. And the apartment, played by a black-clad man with a vaguely menacing accent, has its own agenda. Not surprisingly, this is an Impact show, where a "little off" makes the intersection of blood, bleach, and boy bands funny somehow.
Callaghan likes blood and broken windows. Both also featured prominently in Scab, which Impact did a couple of years back. So did heightened language and acid humor. The language is more successful in some places than others here; the apartment begging for his occupants to notice and take care of him is evocative but not distractingly so, while some of the phone dialogues between Clara and her crazy-cat-lady sister Barbara are silted up with awkwardly delivered poetry. "This perverse apparatus of bones and guts and other wet things" looks great on paper, but it's a hard sell onstage, and the actors playing the sisters struggle with hitting a balance. Jennifer Lucas plays Barbara high-strung and over the top, loosening and deepening only when the character is alone with her cats ("You're the meowiest childen a mommy can have"). Meanwhile Janice (a gutsy Arielle Paul) gets all the ugliness, laying on her bed making up lyrics like "Something left to pulverize/A rotting fruit between my thighs" until she's visited by her fantasy lover, Justin Timberlake (Jeffrey Meanza). In a nice touch, Meanza also plays the fantasy who rushes to Clara's aid, a character who will be familiar to women who were teenagers in the '80s.
Sean Williford plays the apartment, a character strongly reminiscent of Ursula K. Le Guin's The Direction of the Road and its tree protagonist, especially when the flat starts taking drastic measures in self-defense. Williford belongs to Kinetic Theory Experimental Theatre, the only (silent) mime troupe in the area, which explains why he's so spidery, clinging to the corners and owning the LaVal's space in a way few actors seem to. A moment where he effortlessly slides under the bed is extra-super-creepy.
Watching a mother and daughter trying to find their bearings after the loss of their husband and/or father doesn't sound as if it would be a good time, and Callaghan does a solid job of capturing that dynamic; two people who were once able to communicate suddenly finding themselves unable to connect or console. But there's another side, that of two people with shared jokes that would horrify outsiders who expect the bereaved to act a certain way, and Callaghan gets that too. The humor here is plentiful, if of the "I must laugh or I shall never stop screaming" variety, and the work rumbles along at a brisk clip under director Desdemona Chiang's hand.
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