There are many ghosts haunting American Falls, Miki Johnson’s lyrical and intricately woven 2012 drama about trauma, memory and the fundamentally life-affirming nature of storytelling.
The play takes its name from a real place in southeastern Idaho, and the excess of drinking and drug abuse — along with the emotional betrayals and secret cruelties that its working-class characters inflict, endure and mostly shrug off — place American Falls among such fictional small towns as Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, the Grover’s Corners of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town and David Lynch’s Lumberton, North Carolina, the town in Blue Velvet.
Each of American Falls' eight characters has a shocking personal experience to relate — to one another and directly to the audience — in the kind of distanced, anecdotal style that suggests old scar tissue over deep wounds. But the presence of a literal ghost (standout Deborah Puette), who matter-of-factly announces her recent suicide, lights a narrative fuse. The ghost's increasingly harrowing revelations drive the play’s unrelenting momentum to an explosive albeit hopeful conclusion.
Director Chris Fields' beautifully composed staging (under Jesse Baldridge’s half-shadowed, expressionist lighting) and a well-honed ensemble (including magnetic performances by Leandro Cano and Karl Herlinger) ably realize Johnson’s calculated mix of offhand humor and hair-raising horror — while adroitly sidestepping the material’s potentially melodramatic traps.
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GO! Echo Theater Company at Atwater Village Theatre; 3269 Casitas Ave., Atwater; through Oct. 18. (310) 307-3753, echotheatercompany.com.
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