Billed as an alternative holiday story, Sheila Callaghan’s Crumble (Lay Me Down Justin Timberlake), playing at Theatre Inconnu in Fernwood, is bereft of much joy. But like an accident scene, one just can’t look away, anticipating what other misfortune might befall the characters.
You can get the overview and key story points from the preview notes – mother and daughter are grieving the loss of father/partner last Christmas, struggling to cope while living in a run-down building – but the play’s opening scene is cleverly crafted to not give too much away.
Enter a nattily-dressed Matthew Connolly as “the building.” From the outset he does a great job recalling the past glories of his now-decrepit structure, narrating its current woes and longing for someone to do meaningful repairs. His ever-present watchful eye is like the proverbial fly on the wall, except he is the wall – and the ceilings, the floors, the roof, etc. It’s an ingenious element that helps move the storyline along.
Wendy Cornock, as Mother, and Fiona Wright-Jones, as her depressed 11-year-old daughter, Janice, do an excellent job to illustrate the emotional tug-of-war between parent and child that might seem like a typical generational gap, were it not for the underlying grief factor.
Both escape into their fantasy worlds to have conversations, Janice with her heartthrob, a young Justin Timberlake; Mother with Harrison Ford. Versatile Jon Hunwick is a scene stealer as both characters, portraying the brash youth of Timberlake – especially memorable is his dance scene, choreographed by Sylvia Hosie – and the gruffness of Ford. He also plays the ghost-like, unspeaking father role.
For the most part the dialogue is what one might expect, but every so often the characters, especially Mother, launch into beautiful poetic narratives describing fond memories, a storytelling strategy that makes this more than a simple tale of grief and despair.
Julie Gray is well cast as Mother’s cat lady sister Barbara. She lives with 57 felines and doles out motherly advice to her sister, in the absence of children of her own, which at one point leads to her own moments of despair.
The story rolls along toward Christmas, even as Janice secretly plots the family’s explosive demise, with the support of fantasy pal Timberlake. A near tragedy brings the family together at the end, which given the previous dark tone seems a bit out of place, but overall this Don Keith-directed play is worth seeing, mostly due to strong performances by the cast.
Crumble plays now through Dec. 14 at Theatre Inconnu, 1923 Fernwood Rd. Most performances are at 8 p.m., but two more 2 p.m. matinees remain, Dec. 7 and 14. Tickets are $14 for adults, $10 for students/seniors, available at theatreinconnu.com or call 250-360-0234.