The Catastrophic Theatre’s CLEAN/THROUGH is Hauntingly Poignant
Miki Johnson took Houston audiences by storm when The Catastrophic Theatre premiered her first play AMERICAN FALLS. Now, The Catastrophic Theatre and Miki Johnson are back at it with the riveting and gut wrenching World Premiere of her tautly constructed new drama CLEAN/THROUGH. The 60-minute one-act play is a deeply traumatizing experience that leaves audiences profoundly devastated and hopeful all at the same time.
In CLEAN/THROUGH Miki Johnson’s writing captures the fallibility and frailty of the human condition with resonating poignancy. While I have never been addicted to drugs myself, these characters struggle with life was relatable and affected me in ways I never imagined they would. Their clashes with drugs and alcohol transcend that experience and become the battles every human must fight. I feel this comes from Miki Johnson’s coupling the war of becoming sober with the desire for meaningful human relationships. Her story and characters lock us into the play and mercilessly expose us to their darkness and foibles for the full production. When the cast comes out for bows, we breathe a sigh of relief. The experience is almost too much to handle, and while it is painful to endure because of the heavy material, this play is also an invigorating and breathtaking look into the fragility of us all.
Direction by Jason Nodler ensures that we attend to every word, and are entirely consumed by these engrossing performances. As an audience, he moves us to the point of forgetting to breathe. Likewise, he doesn’t shy away from anything. We witness the abuse of drugs, the verbal and emotional abuse of loved ones, and the tumultuous effects of such rocky and unsteady situations. Under his reigns, these unnerving characters feel like real people. Their discomforting problems rip open our chests to expose our hearts, daring us to flinch and look away from the action of the play. Yet, in the final moments of the production, one tender action leaves the audience clinging desperately to the beauty that hope brings to all life. We re-enter the world changed and uplifted.
The cast for the production all delivers powerful performances that impact the audience by exposing the vulnerabilities and flaws of the characters. At the center of production, the co-dependency masquerading as true love between John DeLoach’s Nick and Jessica Janes’ Rachel is torn asunder by addiction. Jessica Janes’ Rachel is fighting for sobriety, but John DeLoach’s Nick admits that he doesn’t desire to live life sober because he enjoys being high more than he ever enjoyed sobriety. Both John DeLoach and Jessica Janes play their characters’ desolation and despair with heartbreaking integrity. This is especially true of the play’s most intensely heartrending scene in which Jessica Janes’ Rachel speaks into a tape recorder.
Vee, played by Candice D’Meza, is a roommate of sorts to Nick. He abandons his life with Rachel to pursue the freedom to lose himself to his demons in a seedy apartment in East LA. Completely enraptured in drugs herself, Vee is surprisingly perceptive; however, her greatest strength comes from sharing her own horrific experiences. Candice D’Meza, John DeLoach, and Jessica Janes skillfully make the audience empathetic to their plight, stomping on our hearts with their exquisite performances.
As Nick’s sister Annie, Elissa Levitt represents the other side of the coin. Her brother and his girlfriend’s addictions affect her. She is highly supportive of their quest for sobriety and ready to help them fight against using. With compassion and undeniable love, she watches over Rachel’s journey to sobriety in Nick’s absence. Towards the end of the play, we clearly see how deeply she tries to help and even protect Rachel as we learn that Annie has withheld information from Rachel.
Scenic Design by Ryan McGettigan cleverly has all the locales of the production present on the stage all at once, allowing the cast to move from space to space with ease and for scenes to change with a lighting cue. This keeps the play moving at a rapid pace, and makes the audience feel more like they are watching a movie than a live performance because of how quick and fluid the transitions are.
Alex Jainchill’s Lighting Design is moody and atmospheric, especially when creating the natural light that streams through the filthy apartment window and for the bathtub scenes.
Costume Design by LA Clevenson captures the characters well. She has clothed them in regalia that indicate the status and personality of the characters without them ever opening their mouths. Nothing in her designs seem incongruent with Miki Johnson’s words or Jason Nodler’s direction.
Chris Bakos’ Sound Design utilizes realistic noises to add realism to the production, informing both our subconscious and conscious about the traffic patterns outside the East LA apartment and other such techniques without being intrusive.
Before seeing Miki Johnson’s CLEAN/THROUGH, I didn’t really know what to expect from the piece. Based on the press release, I had an inkling that it would be extremely depressing. I never expected it to be so gripping and to move me in the ways that it did. I didn’t shed a tear while at the theatre, but the more I thought about and revisited the performances, I began to weep openly. This play stays with you and will haunt you for some time, and you’ll be glad that it does.