Catastrophic Theatre lines up ambitious season

Catastrophic Theatre, Houston's leading alternative stage company, is announcing a 2014 season of six productions, constituting the company's busiest and most ambitious lineup to date.

Founding artistic director Jason Nodler, a nationally recognized director whose productions have won praise in the New York Times and American Theatre magazine, is scheduling more shows, more new works and more regional premieres by noted contemporary dramatists.

Included are two world premieres by resident playwright Miki Johnson, the third in Catastrophic's ongoing series of avant-garde classics, Tamarie Cooper's 17th original musical and Houston premieres of critically acclaimed plays by avant-garde favorites Lisa D'Amour and Will Eno.

Here's the lineup:

"clean/through," Feb. 7-March 1: The first of Johnson's two new works depicts a semi-famous musician, his longtime girlfriend and their relationship ravaged by drugs and illness. Beginning with their return home after a disastrous, potentially career-ending performance, the play looks at fame and fortune – and their absence – asking if love is enough to fix that which is profoundly broken. Actress and playwright Johnson generated considerable interest with Catastrophic's 2012 world premieres of her drama "American Falls" and her absurdist camp musical "Fleaven."

"Happy Days," March 28-April 19: Following memorable recent stagings of Samuel Beckett's "End Game" and "Waiting for Godot," Catastrophic again looks to this seminal figure in the avant-garde movement. In "Happy Days," first produced in 1961, Beckett creates a profound metaphor for the human condition through the plight of protagonist Winnie, first appearing buried in earth up to her waist, then later, up to her chin, as she strives to maintain optimism in the face of diminishing circumstances with a ceaseless flow of cheerful chatter. Nodler directed Catastrophic mainstay Cooper in his 1999 production for Infernal Bridegroom, essentially Catastrophic's predecessor company. (It was led by Nodler and showcased most of the same key talents.) Nodler says: "Samuel Beckett is the reason I work in theater. Were I not to return to his plays on a semi-regular basis, I might forget why I was doing it at all."

"Middletown," May 23-June 14: Catastrophic turns for the first time to the work of Brooklyn's Eno, one of America's most touted young playwrights. "Middletown" is his funny, moving, philosophical portrait of a small town, anchored by the developing friendship between a longtime resident and a new arrival. "Middletown" probes hope and futility amid the crosscurrents of its inhabitants' lives, as they search for meaning in the face of utter meaninglessness. Reviewing its 2010 production at off-Broadway's Vineyard Theatre, the New York Times wrote: "The strange beauty of life and its sometimes unbearable weight are both considered with screwball lyricism in 'Middletown' … a delicate, moving and wry amble along the collective road to nowhere."

Eno works that have made a strong impression in Houston in recent seasons include: "Oh, the Humanity and Other Good Intentions" at Stages, "Thom Pain (based on nothing)" at Nova Arts and "The Flu Season" at Mildred's Umbrella. His latest, "The Realistic Joneses," is one of the most anticipated shows of the new Broadway season, slated to begin previews in February in a production starring Toni ColletteMarisa TomeiMichael C. Hall andTracy Letts.

"A Very Tamarie Christmas," July 18-Aug. 30: Cooper's annual summer musicals have developed a cult following. For the 17th summer, the actress, writer, director and choreographer (in collaboration with regular co-author Patrick Reynolds) will devise another original, freewheeling show – this time skewering our holiday-obsessed culture and all things Christmas.

"Detroit," Sept. 26-Oct. 18: D'Amour's dark comedy depicts two seemingly ordinary suburban couples whose backyard barbecues build into a delirious bacchanal, with undercurrents both hilarious and terrifying. Reviewing the play's 2010 world premiere at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre, the New York Times deemed it "terrific … a scary/funny comedy (that) speaks to the fractious, frightened American moment more perceptively than any play I've seen on a New York stage."

"Detroit" has since been produced at Playwrights Horizons in New York and the National Theatre in London. Infernal Bridegroom gave the world premiere of D'Amour's "Hide Town" in 2006 and Catastrophic memorably staged her "Anna Bella Eema" in 2011. Her other works include the Obie-winning "Nita and Zita."

"The Economist," Nov. 21-Dec. 13, 2014: Catastrophic's second 2014 premiere by Johnson offers a funny/sad, violent/gentle portrait of a family struggling with a child's chronic mental illness – spanning schools, hospitals and psych wards of small-city America in the 1990s. Johnson describes the play as being inspired by her own life and employing Neutral Milk Hotel's record "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea" as the soundtrack of a troubled teen's life.

For information, call 713-522-2723.