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Life becomes complicated in 'Crumble'

Cate Blouke
Janice (played by Elizabeth Bigger) copes with stress in her own way, while her family makes use of invisible cats and other crutches.

Adolescence is that time of life when hormones rage and our bodies turn against us, when our angst is incontrovertibly unique and no one can possibly understand. It's the time when, above all, we bask in the certitude that despite what parents, teachers, or friends say, we know everything, including what's best for us.

For most people, though, what's best doesn't involve hazardous chemicals and decapitated dolls. But for Janice, the awkward adolescent girl at the center of "Crumble (Lay Me Down Justin Timberlake)," which opens this week at the Blue Theatre, those are precisely the ingredients she thinks she needs to set things right again. The apartment that Janice and her mother live in, however, has other ideas. Displeased with his state of disrepair, the apartment in "Crumble" is ready to retaliate, without concern for body count.

Written by Sheila Callaghan, a playwright known for her poetic language and an unconventional approach to narrative, "Crumble" has been making the rounds in American theaters over the past few years — with productions in New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and now here in Austin.

In a city that prides itself on weirdness, it makes sense that we would host the southwest premiere of a play in which the apartment can talk — and take revenge. But this is no cheap horror story or bizarre experimental piece; it's a darkly comedic play about survival and how to cope with the wreckage of catastrophe.

Bastion Carboni, artistic director for Poison Apple Initiative (the company producing the play at the Blue), stumbled across "Crumble" accidentally, but he was impressed by how deftly the playwright deals with strange scenarios. Featuring an anthropomorphized apartment, appearances of both Justin Timberlake and Harrison Ford (played by the same character), a musical structure that shifts in and out of poetic dialogue and at least 20 invisible cats, this play is certainly strange. But, as Carboni explained, "it's never just weird for weird's sake. It's odd without being alienating. It's not the kind of weird that leaves you confused or left behind."

In fact, "Crumble" is exactly the kind of play that Poison Apple wants to bring to Austin. It's a great example of how to do weird well, and Carboni hopes to produce more plays that are paradigmatic of the contemporary theatrical landscape — particularly if they're funny and for mature audiences.

"Crumble" is definitely a play for grown-ups. It rather hilariously explores an 11-year-old girl's (and everyone else's) misconceptions about love, sex and family, with a lot of swearing in between.

According to Carboni, "It's actually a sad play, peppered with humor in all the right places."

The family's sorrow stems from the death of Janice's father in a freak accident last holiday season. A year later, the characters in "Crumble" are doing their best to save themselves and help those around them. Yet, as will so often happen with family, they're going about it in entirely the wrong ways.

We all have methods for coping with stress. Some of us overeat, some shop, some have hobbies, some have cats ... Barbara, Janice's sterile and spinster aunt, has numerous cats. Clara, Janice's mother, cooks extravagant meals and ignores increasingly necessary household repairs. The apartment reminisces about good old days and plots his revenge. Janice... well, Janice dreams of Justin Timberlake.

In a world where interpersonal foundations can't hold, the apartment isn't the only thing crumbling. But "Crumble" illustrates life's cycle of catastrophe and creation, how disaster can actually bring us closer together. Out of the chaos of adolescence, our faces clear, our bodies readjust and we emerge irrevocably altered.

'Crumble (Lay Me Down Justin Timberlake)'

When: Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Dec. 1-18

Where: Blue Theatre, 916 Springdale Road

Cost: Tickets $15, Wednesdays actor's benefit night, Thursdays pay-what-you-can

Information:www.poisonappleinitiative.com