Crumble Review - A Bizarre Christmas Story

At this point in my theatre career, you cannot convince me to go to any production of Christmas Carol, I just don’t want to. I’ve seen so many incarnations of the repetitious, fraudulently joyous, sickeningly sentimental story that this season, I just wanted an honest version of a human’s Christmas - full of flaws, quiet gratitude, and mystery . Jackalope Theatre’s Crumble (Lay Me Down Justin Timberlake), acutely written by Sheila Callaghan, gave me a gift so much more than that. Estrogen, grief, and desperate familial love brew in a theatrically drunk production, directed by Artistic Director AJ Ware. Jackalope’s consistently decadent design and agile performances produce a very satisfying, absurd story, even if its digestion was a little labored.

Magee consults her list of seven secret presents

Let’s take it back to the turn of the century, 2000, when the demigods of NSYNC were in their heyday with “No Strings Attached” (and yes fellow millennials, that was nearly 15 years ago. Let that sink in). For Janice (Kristen Magee) and her Mother (Charlesanne Rabensburg), this has been a year of recovery: her Father (Curtis Jackson, also playing Justin Timberlake and Harrison Ford) died the prior Christmas from falling off the ladder and through the window. Janice has become a crazed recluse, Mother cooks lavish gourmet meals no one wants, her aunt (Rachel Slavick) is the proud mother of 50+ cats, and the resentful and lonely Apartment (Tim Parker) is trying to kill them. Her only solace are the magical visits from Justin Timberlake - and despite their super sexual tension (aptly produced through the experience of an 11 year old), he helps her devise a plot, using seven strange Christmas presents, to quake the family out of their debilitating mourning. These huge characters are well dressed in Callaghan’s poetry, and Sarah Joe White’s costumes: jelly bracelets, corduroy overalls, those LL Bean outdoor slip-on shoes, ponchos, henley t-shirts, more corduroy - I have to give it to White - and set designer Megan Truscott and props designer Corinne Bass - to be able to capture a whole era, plus nostalgia, through texture. The writing and the degree of the request for suspension of disbelief can be challenging for non-post-modernists, but the design team’s familiar world connected the audience with the root of each character.

Tim Parker, Charlesanne Rabensburg having a tough time

My reaction to these characters was very polar: either I found them crucial, rich, urgent characters from that world or limited prop devices. The Apartment and Janice were the former: they were consumed by their tortures, righteous in their insanity, full blooded in their agility and physical performance. I treasured when they were on stage, watching the actors’ discoveries and fun (regardless of the moment’s emotional tone, they were still having a killer time), and I eagerly awaited their next move. They had some lengthy monologues, and what could have been energy destroying exposition just endowed the actors with more strange relatability.  Mother, however, fell victim to ‘do-too-much’ schmacting in that she played wrought with tension and worry for most of the show. I only caught Rabensburg a couple of times cracking open the heart chakra and letting us in. Part of her objective was to reach her daughter again, bleach out her whole neurotic identity to be a well of fun and ease for Janice. When Rabensburg made that bargain, it was really lovely - but when Christmas morning came, nothing changed and she went back to over-gesticulation and a self-awareness of trying to be funny. I wanted to love this character, because I loved her text, but she didn’t fully hook me. Additionally, the aunt Barbara really added nothing to the piece - tucked away in the right angle of the L shaped staging, Barbara served as a means to pull information out of the other characters through phone calls or visits, and her monologue to her cats gave me nothing. This is a fault of the writing however, and Ware’s direction and Brett Schneider’s illusion design lured us back in.

Kristen Magee, Tim Parker concocting their own schemes

After seeing both Exit Strategy and Crumble, and reading the company’s descriptions for the remainder of the year, the whole season’s theme seems to be the “limits of desire” - as quoted in the description for February 2015’s production Four. Ware coloured this play with that thematic pigment, particularly in movement: the flashbacks eerily scored by warped Vince Guaraldi piano (well done, Thomas Dixon on sound), the very rare contact by the real world characters plus the excess of contact with the characters’ visions, and the slithering and banging demand for care by Tim Parker, the Apartment (and clearly one of my favourites). Through the levels of absurdism, magic, cultural allusions, and bombastic ploys, the movement clued us into a very lonely family, desperate to reunite during the year’s most sentimental season.

Tim Parker, Charlesanne Rabensburg, Kristen Magee

 

Real Talk: Grab your nostalgic kaleidoscope, look through this production’s crazy lens and find a very touching family tragicomedy on the other side. Although parts of the production get blurry, it is a worthwhile story and alternative take on Christmas.

Crumble (Lay Me Down Justin Timberlake) runs from now until December 20: Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 3:00pm, at Broadway Armory Park, 5917 N Broadway. For tickets and more information, please visitJacklope Theatre website

Photos: Courtesy of Jacklope Theatre

 

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