Sheila Callaghan’s Crumble at Burning Coal Provides a Unique and Refreshing Perspective on Coping with Sorrow and Grief

The North Carolina Women’s Theatre Festival is a month-long celebration of plays written and directed by women. The plays produced for the festival feature diverse casts with diverse viewpoints, and showcase unique fare throughout the Triangle.

The first show in this year’s lineup did not disappoint. Crumble (Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake), written by Sheila Callaghan, directed by Kayla M. Kaufman, and co-presented by Burning Coal Theatre Company, is a show about falling apart. In fact, everything in middleaged Clara’s life is falling apart. Her husband died in a horrible accident during last year’s Christmas season, and the whole family is still trying to cope with the loss.

Clara (played here by Laquana Henny) has thrown herself into cooking elaborate meals that her awkward teenaged daughter, Janice (Kimmy Fiorentino), refuses to eat. Janice also refuses to bathe, and holes up in her room for long stretches of time.

Clara knows that Janice needs help, but does not know what to do. Clara’s sister, Barbara (Lu Meeks), is trying to help with Janice; but her only experiences with child care are taking care of her 57 cats.

Even the historic house that Clara lives in is falling apart around her. Unbeknownst to the family, Janice is planning their twisted salvation with the help of the love of her imaginary boyfriend, Justin Timberlake. When Janice asks for an unusual list of things for Christmas, the stakes get higher.

It’s hard to categorize this production, as the tone is dark and the characters are all struggling to stay afloat while their lives fall apart. In fact, even the family’s apartment in a subdivided historic house is literally crumbling around them; and the apartment has a role throughout the production — so much so, in fact, that the apartment itself is personified.

“The Apartment” (Laurel Ullman) throws plaster at Clara, and bangs on the radiator when she wants attention. As The Apartment complains to the audience that she used to be a gorgeous mansion, hosting swanky parties of beautiful people, she reveals a dastardly plan to cause a little accident that could speed her sale to residents with the means fix her. The wonky viewpoint is perfect for this off-kilter story.

Right after we have accepted this interesting perspective, the playwright doubles down; and Janice’s girl-crush dream, Justin Timberlake, dances in through her window. He is played by a middleaged African-American sporting an ill-fitting curly blond wig (Gerald Louis Campbell), and the audience bursts into laughter as the pair proceed to sing and dance part of an NSYNC number. It’s a surprising turn to comedy and a welcome relief from the dark story unfolding before us.

Kudos to Kimmy Fiorentino for her spot-on channeling of teen despair and awkwardness. Kudos also to Gerald Louis Campbell for his tongue-in-cheek portrayal of Timberlake and the other unnamed fantasy men.

Sarah Koop did a terrific job with the show’s scenic design. She used simple furniture to convey the modest home. We thought it quite clever to use the balcony for some of The Apartment’s chatter with the audience. It seemed somehow that the walls were truly talking to us. Kudos as well to Victoria Peach for sound design and Matthew Adelson for lighting design. All were spot on.

From the Department of Picky-Picky: Before the show, the audience is cautioned that certain loud noises would be heard. Even though we understand the desire to warn audience members that they might be startled, ultimately, since the specific noises they warned us about were relatively quiet, it seemed to us that the warning merely tipped us off regarding the climax of the show.

We all have sorrow and grief that we carry through our lives, and we all find our own unique ways of coping with it. Some of us cry; and some push sorrow down, whereas others dream that Justin Timberlake may just sweep them away from all of their problems. Life is a mix of laughter and pain, and this show provides a unique and refreshing perspective on how we all cope and the unique ways that families survive and come together.

We recommend it.

<em>Crumble<!-- (Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake)--></em> stars Laurel Ullman (top left) as The Apartment and Laquana Henny as Clara (photo by Proctor Photographics)
Crumble (Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake) stars Laurel Ullman (top left) as The Apartment and Laquana Henny as Clara (photo by Proctor Photographics)

SECOND OPINION: June 9th Raleigh, NC Raleigh review by Lauren Van Hemert: and June 4th BWW Interview with director Kayla M. Kaufman, conducted by Lauren Van Hemert:; June 9th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Alan R. Hall:; June 3rd Raleigh, NC News & Observer mini-preview by Roy C. Dicks:; and May 23rd Hillsborough, NC WHUP/104.7 FM interview with Burning Coal artistic director and Crumble (Lay Me Down Justin Timberlake) director Jerome Davis, Worried playwright and director Renée A. Nixon, and Iphigenia in Splott director Kayla M. Kaufman, conducted by Wayne Leonard for “Lights Up!”:

Burning Coal Theatre Company and the North Carolina Women’s Theatre Festival, present CRUMBLE (LAY ME DOWN, JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE) at 7:30 p.m. June 16, 2 p.m. June 17, and 7:30 p.m. June 21 and 24 in Murphey School Auditorium, 224 Polk St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27604.



INFORMATION: 919-710-6635 or

SHOW:,, and




Burning Coal Theatre Company:,, and

North Carolina Women’s Theatre Festival:,,, and



Crumble (Lay Me Down Justin Timberlake) (2005 Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco comedy): (Sheila Callaghan), (Playscripts) and (New Dramatists). 

Sheila Callaghan (Queen, NY-born playwright and screenwriter): (official website), (New Dramatists bio), and (Wikipedia).

Kayla M. Kaufman (Los Angeles, CA director): (official website), (Facebook page), and (Twitter page).


Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.