Miki Johnson's New Play clear/through Looks at Death, Love and the Impulse to Self-destruct

Playwright Miki Johnson's clean/through, receiving its world premiere at Catastrophic Theatre, isn't exactly a happy story. It's about a rock star/heroin addict bent on self-destruction. It isn't exactly a completely sad story either. Nothing's ever completely happy or completely sad, Johnson tells us. "[Nick's] story is specifically about drug addition but as with anyone there's more to it than that," she says. "This kid has sort of achieved the dream and he's become a pretty successful rock star and no matter what, he's determined to destroy himself. He's a heroin addict, he's a junkie. In a literal, technical way, he's committing a slow suicide. But when it's all said and done, it's a love story."

John DeLoach plays Nick and Jessica Janes plays Rachel, Nick's heroin partner and lover. "In many ways this is Rachel's story every bit as it is Nick's. They both have ghosts. These are adults and they live in an adult, complicated, wicked world."

Johnson, who won Best Playwright at the 2012 Houston Theater Awards for her debut work American Falls, was inspired by musician Elliot Smith."It's completely inspired by, but not based on, Elliot Smith and his music," Johnson is quick to point out.

Jason Nodler, artistic director for Catastrophic Theatre and Johnson's longtime partner, is, by all accounts obsessed with Elliot Smith. "He passed his obsession on to me," laughs Johnson. "He's very emotional in his songs. I would listen to his songs for hours.

"Then I started reading about his life and his life was just super crazy, very interesting. It got me wanting to write. The inspiration is evident, but it became a made-up story somewhere along the way."

Johnson has been noticeably absent from casting sessions and rehearsals for clean/through. "I wasn't as involved with the rehearsal process this time around. I think its a little claustrophobic for actors when the playwright is in the room with them all day so I stepped back this time.

"While it was a little bit traumatic for me not to be in there, I'm happy with the way things are turning out. These are young, really talented actors." (Candice D'Meza and Elissa Levitt complete the cast.)

The play has evolved during the rehearsal process, Johnson says, not in small part due to the actors and Nodler, who directs clean/through. "There's a lot of white space, metaphorically speaking. So there's room for all of this invention from the actors.

"Anything a playwright comes up with, it's not as good as what the actors do. Really, 90 percent of the time they're going to best you. Once you get up there with all the other actors, it's different. There's so much more creativity that comes from their mouths and their bodies, it's ridiculous not to let that in."

clean/through runs 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Through March 1. 1119 East Freeway. For information, call 713-522-2723 or visit catastrophictheatre.com. Pay-what-you-can.

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