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All in the Family 

Cult novelist turned playwright Denis Johnson debuts his second play at Intersection

Wednesday, Aug 8 2001
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It's no wonder that cult novelist turned dramaturge Denis Johnson wrote his first two plays with Intersection's resident theater company, Campo Santo, in mind: Its name means both "sacred ground" and "graveyard" in Spanish. Johnson's characters, strung-out lowlifes on the brink of an epiphany, lie at the intersection of heaven and hell -- the perfect dramatic vessels for the members of the troupe to fill. Formed in 1996 by a trio of Latino actors, the group has earned accolades for its multicultural ethos, risk-taking MO, and devotion to new, challenging drama that plumbs the murky depths of the human experience. Johnson premieres his second play, Shoppers Carried by Escalators Into the Flames, this week.

His first play, the darkly comic Hellhound on My Trail, opened last year on the heels of an art-house film version of his short story collection about an itinerant junkie, Jesus' Son, and the publication of his novel The Name of the World. Though Hellhound met with mixed reviews, Shoppers could break out. "An evening of tequila, family, and firearms," as the press materials say, the tale revisits members of the Cassandra family introduced in Hellhound, who gather together at their gun-toting grandmother's house in Ukiah for a family reunion straight out of hell. The relatives are damaged goods, lost souls whose morals have been molded by television, fast food, and Hollywood. As Deborah Cullinan, executive director of Intersection, puts it, the play is about one family's "quintessential search for the American dream -- Western style." It's always entertaining to visit Johnson's dystopian landscapes, and Campo Santo treats them as sacred ground indeed.

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Lisa Hom

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