Take a tall glass, muddle “Our Town,” and “Twin Peaks,” and generously pour in some Budweiser – lots and lots of Budweiser – and you have a dark, potent cocktail titled “American Falls,” served on weekends at Braddock’s newest hotspot, the Barebones Black Box Theater.
Our story opens with eight actors on stage in various locations, each telling a snippet of a story that comes together like a scary-ass jigsaw puzzle. Billy Mound of Clouds (Leandro Cano), a Native American Payless shoe salesman, who watches television like it’s his second job, sets the scene. Billy, like his ancestors, believes in some serious metaphysical mumbo jumbo. Only his psychic intuition works from the bottom up. He gets premonitions that enter feet first, through his smoking new kicks.
Billy can’t wait to tell you about an eclectic collection of neighbors that surround him.
We methodically meet the rest of the cast. In one corner, Eric (John Steffenauer), Matt (Dave Mansueto) and Maddie (Sarah Silk) sit around the local bar and laugh, joke and trade tragic tales from childhood. These barroom buddies put the fun in dysfunctional.
Alone in another corner of the stage, across the dusty plain of American Falls, Samantha (Carrie Anne Spear) spills out her own darkly humorous anecdotes (the tattoo story is simply mesmerizing).
In a bedroom, not far from Billy’s living room, Samuel (Connor McCanlus) has a difficult conversation with eight-year-old Isaac (Gunnar Bjornson).
Above all the action, Lisa (Liz Hammond) narrates the story of her recent suicide. There are ghosts in this story, but, just like in real life, it’s the living ones you have to watch out for.
Somehow (within 70 minutes, mind you), these disparate threads come together, building a dark, disturbing narrative.
With director, and Barebones Productions main man, Patrick Jordan at the helm, you’re always in for a night of compelling theater, but “American Falls,” is utterly enthralling.
Though the entire cast is brilliant, special praise must be lavished on Cano’s Billy, McCanlus’ Samuel, and Spear’s Samantha.
Cano is superb as Billy Mound of Clouds. He’s the kind of guy you want to grab a beer with. He’s a far cry from Al Bundy, America’s best known shoe slinger.
McCanlus, who just wrapped up a stint as Robert, the wacky best friend in “Boeing Boeing” at the Cabaret in Theater Square, pulls a 180 and plays a menacing sociopath with homicidal tendencies. The vile diatribe he spews on to the young boy left in his care is loathsome. His character is so villainous, you’ll want to punch him in the gut after the show (Please don’t. There is a sweet human being beneath that scurrilous scoundrel).
Spear plays an alcoholic with a backlog of regrets, but she is so charismatic and charming; perhaps it’s the twinkle in her eyes as she recounts stories of Samantha’s youth.
Playwright Miki Johnson taps into the zeitgeist of the mundane and blows it up with dynamite.
Lisa, from her POV in Limbo puts it best. She says, “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.”
“American Falls” is everything; magical, lyrical, wacky weird, and wonderful.
P.S. Please note that Friday and Saturday shows include a pre-show reception from 6:30-7:45 with small plates from Superior Motors Chef Kevin Sousa in the home of Mayor John Fetterman.
“American Falls” runs until May 31 in the Barebones Black Box Theater, 1211 Braddock Avenue, Braddock, PA 15104