Catastrophic Theatre proudly presents the World Premiere production of
As much as any other work to which it might be compared, Miki Johnson’s extraordinary debut play American Falls brings to mind Thornton Wilder’s masterwork Our Town. Wilder’s classic play depicted an epoch once present now past; American Falls is a slice of the times in which we live today. The two plays each feature the inhabitants of small towns and the ways in which their lives become entangled, the ways in which they are together and the ways in which they are apart. A sort of Our Town for our times, American Falls asks those ancient, unanswerable questions: What is it to live? What becomes of the child on the mysterious road to adulthood? What is it like to grow old? What does it mean to die?
The play follows a day in the lives of six living people and two dead ones in American Falls, Idaho. From a ghost drinking beer in a lawn chair to a Native American shoe salesman, the population of American Falls is the product of "America's improbable experiment.” If not yet a melting pot then perhaps a mixing bowl – filled with stories at once funny and sad, full of heartache and pain, with love found and then lost, and the ways we negotiate a path ever-forward even while reflecting on the past. Some will lose and some will win; all will live and laugh and feel and die.
As these paths traverse in and out of each others’ stories, the play carries us from Bruce Willis in Moonlighting to the actual moon; from conceiving babies while drunk on Budweiser beer to the difficulties of those babies, then children, then grown-ups; from the cool pain of alienation to the warm embrace of belonging. Along the way, references to pop culture – from National Public Radio to Harry and the Hendersons; from Frank Capra to Law and Order: Special Victims Unit – serve as metaphors to life. And so it is we pass from love to sex to pain to hate to sadness to badness to madness to love.
The world premiere of American Falls marks the arrival of a vital new voice for the American theatre. Miki Johnson has been an accomplished actor for seventeen years and she writes as an actor would: with characters that need each other and that need to move forward in their lives, with purpose, with good intentions and with bad… just as it is with any of us.
Lisa is the first of two ghosts we meet in American Falls. She perches above us and speaks from the vacancy of the beyond:
I mean, we do these things. We spill coffee down our sleeve, we read the labels on soup cans, we honk our horns and floss our teeth and cry and sing and swallow and turn on light switches and turn them off again and get places on time and get places late and watch TV and we get upset when a storm takes out the electricity and we blink and open drawers and sometimes forget to close them again and write ourselves reminders. All these things. And it’s nothing. It’s all nothing. And it’s everything. Where I am which is nowhere, no light, no dark, no up or down or happy or sad, all these things fall away and there’s nothing of you left but the dust you left on the dust. It’s really very very beautiful. So beautiful I could cry. But there’s no crying here and no coffee to spill. It’s so lovely, so kind that this is how it ends.
American Falls tells the stories of a town like any other, populated by people that are utterly alone, their lives given meaning by the improbable ways in which they find one another; bound by geography, by purpose, by chance, and above all by their humanity.
The play reminds us that we all live in American Falls; that the human experience, and too the American experience, with its awe, its fear, its pain and its wonder, unites us in these most simple desires: to find not just a house but a home, to find in another a place of belonging, to locate that medicine love, in whatever ways we can manage to do so.
Fat, dead, magic, broken, saved.
Photo: George Hixson
Miki Johnson was born in the small town of Green, Ohio. Her first acting gig was a one-off in high school, where she played The Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz. She received her BFA in creative writing at The University of Pittsburgh. While there, she and a friend produced Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days, in which she played Winnie. And she's been acting ever since. Miki received her MFA in Acting from Yale University in 2005. Many plays and many cities later, she returned to Pittsburgh to play the lead role in After Mrs. Rochester, where she met her partner Jason. They moved to Houston and she set about setting the town on fire with her extraordinary performances at The Catastrophic Theatre, where she is a company member, and at Stages Repertory Theatre. In her first year here, she was named “Best Actress” by The Houston Press, in its annual “Best of Houston” issue. With Catastrophic, Miki has appeared in Endgame, Crave, Bluefinger, The Designated Mourner, Our Late Night, Spirits to Enforce and Big Death and Little Death. At Stages, she appeared in Mr. Marmalade and Oh! The Humanity. Miki’s next original play, to be produced by Catastrophic Theatre this fall, is Fleaven. A rhyming, beat, hip-hop, disco affair, it features characters named Seven and Heaven and Stick and Sock and “the town’s town villain” Flame. And it takes place in a town that is a mall. Miki lives in the Historic Sixth Ward in Houston with her partner Jason, their dog Fonzie, and their cats Jeff and Steve.