“Name that Play” Revealed

“Name that Play” Revealed

There was no shortage of revivals of traditional holiday plays, not to mention adaptations, parodies, and spin-offs of this repertoire, all over the country this season.  Holidays, after all, are perfect settings for plays because they are inherently so dramatic, so action-packed, so climactic, so emotional.  Throw some spiked eggnog, pretty packages, and sparkly lights into the mix, and soon everyone is acting—happy.

While the December holiday plays that come to mind for most include A Christmas Carol, White Christmas, and A Christmas Story, to name a few, there are countless others—old and new—that take place this time of year.  Having not read Ibsen’s A Doll’s House in a decade, I had forgotten until I saw it recently that it actually unfolds on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, making it a fitting classic for fall/winter programming.

A recent play that also takes place over the Christmas holiday is Sheila Callaghan’s Crumble (Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake), which was Drama Daily’s latest “Name that Play.”  Crumble was developed with Manhattan Theatre Source in 2000 and was first produced by Clubbed Thumb at the Ohio Theatre in New York City in 2004.  It received its world premiere at Moving Arts in Los Angeles in 2005. If you’d like to read the script, check out Funny, Strange, Provocative: Seven Plays from Clubbed Thumb (2007).  Callaghan currently has a play called Recess running in NYC, and it is part of “The Great Recession” at The Flea, a series of six commissioned one-act economic-themed plays. The event also features new works by Adam Rapp, Itamar Moses, and others.  Here is a review of “The Great Recession” plays by Aaron Riccio over at Kul.

As the title suggests, Crumble’s central characters–mother, Clara and 11-year old daughter, Janice–as well as the anthropomorphized Apartment in which they live are in serious disrepair.  Their shared dysfunction stems from the loss of the husband and father of the household, who appears and vanishes in ghostlike fashion whenever his name is mentioned during the play.  Our understanding of the circumstances surrounding the father’s death/disappearance the Christmas prior is purposely vague: we know only that it involved a crooked angel tree topper and a loose plank in the wood floor.  That the father met his demise in the family home is a source of absurd guilt for the Apartment (and humor for the audience) because the Apartment sees itself as implicated like a murderer and, therefore, is constantly looking out for Clara and Janice’s safety.

The play opens and closes with the Apartment whose sense of resentment stemming from neglect in the beginning and sense of elation following Clara’s home improvements in the end reminds us that our relationship to our dwelling needs nurturing just as much as our human relationships do.  The irony of this inanimate character (which Callaghan stresses should not be portrayed too literally) is that it seems to have a better sense of the human condition than the human characters themselves do.

When we first meet Clara and Janice, the former, a chef, is summoning Janice to her gourmet dinner and inquiring about Janice’s Christmas list.  The grief that follows loss, the inability to grieve openly and healthily, has clearly contributed to the breakdown of this mother/daughter relationship.  Janice has managed to excel professionally, but taking care of business at home–from apartment repairs to parenting–has proven insurmountable for her, and so rather comically, we see the Apartment taking her through breathing exercises when she lapses into spells of hyperventilation. “How does one cultivate such an odd human?,” asks the Apartment in awe of Janice, whose list couldn’t be further from your typical child’s Christmas wish list: it includes items to make a homemade explosive out of a headless doll. Rounding out this quirky cast of characters is Clara’s sister, Barbara, the crazy cat lady, who individually wraps catnip toys for her nearly 60 cats.

In trying moments, mother and daughter are visited by their respective fantasy heartthrobs: for Clara, Harrison Ford; for Janice, Justin Timberlake.  Ford tries to allay Clara’s doubts about her parenting skills, and Timberlake affirms Janice’s plan to blow up her right hand–the same hand her father used to adjust the tree angel before he fell through a glass window.  Beyond envisioning Ford, Clara turns periodically to Barbara for moral support. But the true realization comes for Clara on Christmas morning, when she and Janice exchange gifts. Janice reveals her bomb doll contraption to her mom and insists her mom close her eyes and make a wish. Then, Janice sets off the bomb and explodes her own hand.  This dark and seemingly unnecessary event is just the wake up call mother and daughter need in order to start living again.

*Image of Sheila from Theatermania

One Response to ““Name that Play” Revealed”
  1. Josh says:

    It’s SUCH a wonderful play! I love her work a lot, actually. Did you know Isaac Butler from Parabasis, who directed my last play, is directing a production of this down in the Carolinas next year? I wish I could see it.

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