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'American Falls' at Atwater Village Theatre grapples with damage from the implosion of the American dream

'American Falls' at Atwater Village Theatre grapples with damage from the implosion of the American dream
Barbara Tarbuck in the Los Angeles premiere of Miki Johnson's "American Falls," an Echo Theater Company production at the Atwater Village Theater.

(Darrett Sanders)

Dreams deferred and roads not taken infuse Echo Theater Company's production of "American Falls" at the Atwater Village Theatre.

A first play for actor-turned-playwright Miki Johnson, "Falls" has been likened to a modern-day "Our Town." Indeed, the play, which is set in a tiny Idaho town "a few years back," has an elegiac quality evocative of Thornton Wilder's classic.

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There, similarities end. Distinctly postmodern, Johnson's characters survive amid the wreckage of the American Dream. Linked by unfulfilled yearning, these have-littles either accommodate life's disappointments -- or are destroyed by them.

Johnson has a tendency to overstate, starting with that blatantly symbolic title and extending to overworked character traits. However, in a resonant staging, director Chris Fields makes the most of his solid performers, many of whom have been double-cast.

The play's moral center is Billy Mound of Clouds (wryly funny Leandro Cano), a gentle Native American who can sense evil, quite literally, to the tips of his toes.

Next door is Samuel (Karl Herlinger), whose abused wife, Lisa (Andrea Grano), has just committed suicide. All three address the audience in monologue, as does Samantha (ever-splendid Barbara Tarbuck), Samuel's alcoholic mother, who relates the train wreck of her life with poignant acceptance.

Maddie (Jessica Goldapple), her boyfriend Matt (Ian Merrigan), and their buddy Eric (Eric Hunicutt) boozily and cheerfully relate tales of past trauma as if they were the best of jokes.

Then there's little Isaac (Tomek Adler), Lisa's natural son by Eric who sits motionless facing upstage -- a captive audience to the sad and vicious Samuel, who perversely takes on his dead wife's persona as his rage builds.

The denouement may be harrowing, but "Falls" ends with a life-affirming reminder of the human capacity for kindness. It's an impressive debut for a promising playwright.

"American Falls," Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Atwater Village. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 4 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Oct. 18. $25. (310) 307-3753. www.EchoTheaterCompany.com. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.

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