Crumble (Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake) and Authorial Intent

Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati Intern Company

Jun 6, 2014 at 10:03 am

The final opening of the 2014 Cincinnati Fringe happened on Thursday evening at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati. As has been the case for several years, ETC’s interns — who spend most of the season behind the scenes, occasionally understudying roles but more often moving furniture and working the tech side — use the Fringe as a chance to perform at center stage. Their work is worth seeing, but the run of their double bill is brief, just four performances, wrapping up on Saturday evening at 7 p.m.

The evening’s first section is Sheila Callaghan’s Crumble (Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake), a surreal piece about the impact of grief. It’s Christmas, a year after the death of 11-year-old Janice’s father. Mother (Linnea Bond), a manic chef, is not coping well, preparing elaborate recipes for no one, and Janice (Hannah Sawicki), isolated with her dolls, has descended into her own madness and anger. Both find solace in hallucinations of pop icons — for Janice it’s Justin Timberlake, for her mom, it’s Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones (both played by Zak Schneider) — who don’t really help them move on with life. Nor does the mother’s cat-lady sister Barbara (Jeremy Carlisle Parker) who has ideas about parenting, but her “family” consists of 57 cats.

The piece’s fifth performer is Sola Thompson as “The Apartment,” the voice of the crumbling home that mother and daughter continue to inhabit. Thompson’s performance is powerful as the deteriorating, inanimate structure that actually recalls its memorable past and schemes to rid itself of its dysfunctional, inattentive inhabitants. The unusual conceit takes a few minutes to grasp, but it provides a weird glue to hold together this eerie story.

The second element of the interns’ showcase features Becca Howell and Jared Earland in Itamar Moses’s Authorial Intent, a multilayered exploration of actors at work. First we see them as a contemporary young couple, recently moved in together; she has doubts about the course of their relationship, and their interaction is melodramatic. In the second scene, the action of the first is repeated, but in the form of spoken stage directions and phrases that overtly and concisely reveal “authorial intent,” that is, the thought and motivation behind the actions. This is spoken more or less without emotion. The third scene features the actors as “themselves,” having an honest conversation about their feelings, their potential for a relationship and their reaction to the piece they’ve just performed.

It’s amusing and enlightening to see the show’s narrative played out and re-examined from these varying perspectives. The analytical second scene, handled drily, is curiously revelatory — even though in the third scene, the actors claim to have found it nearly impossible to memorize. It’s a bit like opening the back your laptop and seeing the wires and circuit boards inside. You might not quite understand it, but it’s intriguing.

Both pieces, staged by directing intern Ben Raanan (the program is about 100 minutes), are well chosen pieces for the talented interns. I hope to see several of them remain in Cincinnati for subsequent onstage work.

CRUMBLE (LAY ME DOWN, JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE) and AUTHORIAL INTENT by Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati Intern Company will be performed 7:45 p.m. June 6 and 1 and 7 p.m. Jyne 7 at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati (1127 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine).