THE ONLY THING Christmas-y about this play is that it takes place at Christmas time,” director Don Keith tells me during our phone conversation about Theatre Inconnu’s production of Crumble (Lay Me Down Justin Timberlake). Playwright Sheila Callaghan uses black humour and unconventional characters to visit the topic of grief, as a mother and her pre-teen daughter cope with the first anniversary of an untimely, holiday-related death. “It’s not exactly The Nutcracker,” says Keith wryly.
The title of the play references the young girl’s fantasies about pop star Justin Timberlake, who appears as a character. Mom’s “imaginary friend” is Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones (both roles are played by actor Jon Hunwick, who also embodies the voiceless character of the girl’s dead father). The two women comfort themselves with these apparitions, while fending off a “crazy cat lady” neighbour who provides comic relief and unwanted advice. “The main thing that’s so intriguing,” Keith offers, “is the way metaphor is used so incredibly well.” Callaghan anthropomorphizes the family’s apartment (played by Matthew Connelly), which talks. Says Keith, “he’s the floor, he’s the window, he’s the ceiling, he’s the wallpaper. He never speaks to anybody directly, but reacts to what’s going on in this family, and reminisces about when things were better.” The apartment is “crumbling right in front of us…it was always the father who looked after things…now no one is being looked after.”
“The family has disintegrated,” Keith says. “There’s not a lot of communication…[the girl] is struggling with everything—struggling with being an 11-year-old, and the relationship with her mother, who she doesn’t understand—she was devoted to her father.” Still, Keith says, “The audience won’t be depressed. They’ll be satisfied, if not happy—and let’s hope none of us have a Christmas like this.”
Keith asserts that an alternative holiday theatre offering like “Crumble” is exactly what Theatre Inconnu is about. The play has been critically celebrated since its debut in 2011, and this is the first time it’s been staged in Victoria. Audiences can “expect a surprise, something different. Whatever conclusion you come to, this author really understands grief and grieving, and everything’s out on the table.”
Crumble can be previewed on Nov 26 ($7). It runs till Dec 14; tickets $10-14. 250-590-6291 or www.ticketrocket.co. Theatre Inconnu is wheelchair accessible, at 1923 Fernwood Rd.