Review: ‘Crumble (Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake)’ from Women’s Theatre Festival

Gerald Louis Campbell as Justin Timberlake and Kimmy Fiorentino as 11-year-old Janice, who is still mourning the death of her father. They star in “Crumble (Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake),” presented by the Women’s Theatre Festival.Proctor Photographics

Sheila Callaghan’s 70-minute one-act, “Crumble (Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake),” is packed with insights on the loss of loved ones and parent-child dynamics, employing humorous and absurdist elements.

The Women’s Theatre Festival’s excellent production sets a new standard for its offerings.

Here’s the premise.

It’s Christmastime, and 11-year-old Janice is still mourning the death of her father from a tragic accident the previous Christmas. Her mother, Clara, is dealing with being a widow and must also grapple with Janice’s reclusive and often bizarre behavior.

Janice imagines visits from pop star Justin Timberlake, who comforts her. Clara’s sister Barbara offers unhelpful advice based on being a “mother” to 57 cats. As Clara and Janice’s lives seem to crumble, so does their old apartment, which registers its resentment (anthropomorphically through another actor).

The script

Callaghan’s whimsical scenario shows deeply felt sympathy for family struggles, as well as for wonderful architecture that becomes neglected. It takes a few minutes to get into the script’s special world, but it develops beautifully into a clever and moving experience.

The cast

Kimmy Fiorentino is convincing as an 11-year-old reacting under debilitating stress, revealing unspoken hurts while giving voice to her dolls. Laquana Henny’s Clara puts on a positive show, busying herself cooking elaborate dishes. She exposes her true feelings in calls to sister Barbara, whom Lu Meeks imbues with comic “cat lady” characteristics and misguided assurances.

As Justin Timberlake, Gerald Louis Campbell amuses in his unique take on the celebrity, while also contributing nicely differentiated appearances as Harrison Ford in Clara’s dreams and as the deceased father. Laurel Ullman’s Apartment is an audience favorite in her poetic reminiscences of former glory and her determination to get the current occupants to notice needed repairs.

The production

Director Kayla Minton Kaufman draws snappy pacing from her cast in a vibrant staging that uses all of the theater space. Victoria Peach’s sound design deserves special mention for its precise door creaks and electrical buzzings along with appropriate musical flourishes. Sarah Koop’s scenic design and Katy Koop’s props give a realistic grounding for the more illusory aspects.

The bottom line

A very different but highly satisfying contemplation on the challenges we all can suddenly face as parents or children.

“Crumble (Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake),” presented by the Women’s Theatre Festival

Where: Burning Coal Theatre, 224 Polk St., Raleigh
When: 7:30 p.m. June 21, 24
Tickets: $9-$10
Info: 919-834-4001 or womenstheatrefestival.com

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