Looking back at the year in Chicago theater, 2005 ranks up there as one of the more disappointing seasons to date. What’s been missing is a knockout production from a small, unknown theater company—until now. Squeaking in at the tail end of the year, Dog & Pony Theatre Company’s “Crumble (Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake)” is an unexpected jolt of good theater: a show that feels unique and entirely unto itself. Eleven-year-old Janice is a strange kid, “hyper and weird and shitty.” The home she shares with her mother (who struggles to make sense of her daughter’s oddness, plus a few problems of her own) is a dump. If the apartment had its way, things would be different; we know this because a character called The Apartment, says so. “I was a mansion once,” he cries. “A kept mansion!” The anthropomorphic abode, in a hilarious turn by David Gray, is petulant, spoiled and a ludicrous ass. If your dog could speak, he would sound like this. It’s a great conceit from playwright Sheila Callaghan, who brings to mind a dark, screwed-up version of Judy Blume. Without resorting to sap, she conjures real emotional pathos within the warped goings-on between Janice (Marisa Lark Wallin in another very funny performance) and her mother (Laurie Larson, twitty and exasperated). Justin Timberlake and Harrison Ford make an appearance, as does a Molotov cocktail; if that doesn’t spark your interest, I don’t know what will. The production is co-directed by Jarrett Dapier and Krissy Vanderwarker, who have both spent time assistant-directing at the Steppenwolf—it shows; this pair knows exactly what it’s doing. (Nina Metz)
“Crumble (Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake)” plays at Athenaeum’s Studio #2, 2936 North Southport, through December 31.