Theatre Review: CRUMBLE (Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake) by Shelia Callaghan

Now playing at The Firehouse Theatre is a production that I promise you is unlike anything else you’ll see in the city of Richmond. The Firehouse has always been a haven for funky, thought-provoking theatre and, ‘CRUMBLE (Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake)’ carries on in that fine tradition.

At its heart, ‘CRUMBLE’ is a story of neglect and disrepair. Janice [Christina Billew] is ‘a cantankerous, tedious pre-teen with bad hygiene and a mouth like a trucker’ and her Mother [Jen Meharg] is a woman ‘so deep in sorrow she can’t see past her nose.’ Janice escapes daily to her room to listen to music on headphones, dream of Justin Timberlake [played by Matt Hackman] and argue with her dolls. Mom busies herself cooking gourmet meals that her daughter won’t eat and dreams of Harrison Ford. They live in a rundown apartment house that at one time was a mansion but is now in great disrepair [personified by Frank Creasy]. While they all share the same space, each character almost always speaks in monologue, which suits the isolationism and alienation that every character is dealing with.

The Apartment speaks of past tenants and past glories while tolerating Janice and her mom. Janice and her mom are dealing with the loss of a loved one and, basically they don’t speak when they don’t have to. Mom leans on her sister Barbara [Lisa Kotula] for advice on how to ‘handle Janice’ but Barbara is as broken and lost as her sister.

The show is dark and it will make you think, it might even make you cringe. But, it’s not all bleak and dreary. The show has some very funny moments…just don’t expect the froth and sugar you might see at another local theatre.

I’ve not seen anything quite like this show. I highly recommend this if you’re a daring sort who’s looking to be challenged and pushed. The performances were great. Creasy provides the comedy just when the audience needs a moment to exhale, and Billew’s Janice is achingly nuanced and yet child-like in her excitement and wonder.

The overwhelming lesson I took away from seeing this show is quite simple to say, but at times difficult to execute: Parents, TALK TO YOUR KIDS!! No matter their age, or if you think they’re ‘fine’ and handling things well, TALK TO YOUR KIDS. You never know what they might be doing alone in their bedroom. And, the advice goes both ways: Kids, TALK TO YOUR PARENTS!! No matter how uncool you may think they are, or how unfair you may think they treat you, talk to them. They need you, and even if you don’t believe it now, one day you’ll realize you need them.

Say something before it’s too late.

[Directed by Bill Paxton. Playing weekends now thru March 20. Tix $25. Curtain at 8pm Thurs-Sat and at 4pm Sunday. or 804.355.2001]

Barry Hall


Review: Willie Nelson and Family at The National 02.16.10

The word ‘Legend’ is one that gets thrown around a lot, and usually it’s attributed to someone undeserving of the moniker. There are, however, a few legends among us. Willie Nelson is one, and I was lucky enough to be in the crowd at a sold out National Theatre to see him deliver the trademark country/blues/jazz amalgamation he’s known for. Having never seen him in concert before, my friend Eddie and I did not know what to expect, except that hearing ‘On The Road Again’ was a given; everything else was up in the air and would be a happy surprise for the both of us.

After an opening set by his son Lucas and his band ‘Promise of the Real’, Willie stepped onstage and kicked things off with ‘Whiskey River.’ Willie has always had a way of singing in his own way, forsaking the given time signature, instead offering an almost jazz vocal and guitar style. He’ll seem to rush through a line of a verse or slow down and deliver a halting chorus, demanding his band follow, keep up and predict where the changes are.

Seeing this live could be disappointing for some because nothing Willie plays live sounds anything like his recorded versions. I knew this much going in, and I was looking forward to the different interpretations of material I had heard before. Some patrons though audibly voiced their displeasure when the performed version of ‘Crazy’ [which Willie wrote and Patsy Cline made a worldwide smash] was so different that a group sing along with the audience was out of the question. I just sat back and marveled, watching a master at work.

Watching and listening, it struck me that Willie Nelson is very similar to the jazz great Django Reinhardt. [Think about that for a second!] That realization made my jaw drop and made me appreciate even more how original and different Willie is and has always been.

He played for about eighty minutes, non-stop, playfully waving to the crowd, periodically removing his cowboy hat in order to wear his signature red bandanna. With so many songs in his catalog, it would take weeks to play them all, but he played some all time faves, some newer material, and even some covers in honor of those now gone [Waylon, Hank Williams, Sr.] and one who carries on in Willie’s tradition of doing things his own way [Toby Keith].

There is now far more gray than red in the hair of ‘The Red-Headed Stranger’ but that’s fitting. He may not be red-headed anymore, but he’s also no longer a ‘stranger’ to anyone. Call him a legend, call him an outlaw. After seeing one show, you’ll be hard pressed not to call Willie Nelson ‘family.’

No matter the ticket price, that’s priceless.

Set List [Approximate, based on past show set lists online at the site and my memory]:

Whiskey River

Still Is Still Moving to Me

Beer for My Horses

Funny How Time Slips Away


Night Life

Down Yonder

Me and Paul

Good Hearted Woman

Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys

Hey Good Lookin’

Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground

On the Road Again

Always On My Mind

I Ain’t Superman

Bloody Mary Morning

I Saw the Light

Gotta Get Drunk