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"Perfection is not the basis of what I'm talking about," says a member of the Cassandra family, which forms the center of Denis Johnson's plays, Hellhound on My Trail and Shoppers Carried by Escalators Into the Flames. The character could be speaking for his creator, because human imperfection is one of Denis Johnson's specialties -- in his critically acclaimed novels, sho "Perfection is not the basis of what I'm talking about," says a member of the Cassandra family, which forms the center of Denis Johnson's plays, Hellhound on My Trail and Shoppers Carried by Escalators Into the Flames. The character could be speaking for his creator, because human imperfection is one of Denis Johnson's specialties -- in his critically acclaimed novels, short stories, and nonfiction, and, now, in two brilliant new plays. These two works present a dramatized field guide to some of the more dysfunctional and dysphoric inhabitants of the American West: a sexual-misconduct investigator who misconducts herself sexually; a renegade Jehovah's Witness who supports his splinter Jehovean group by dealing drugs; the Cassandra Brothers and their father and their grandmother, thrown together at a family reunion/wedding/melee at their shabby homestead in Ukiah, California. When Shoppers Carried by Escalators Into the Flames was performed in San Francisco in 2001, the Chronicle said, "There's an enormous appeal in Johnson's bleak-comic vision of a semi-mythic American West." That appeal derives from the author's perfect vision of imperfection, embodied with such energy and courage in these marvelous pieces of theatre.


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"Perfection is not the basis of what I'm talking about," says a member of the Cassandra family, which forms the center of Denis Johnson's plays, Hellhound on My Trail and Shoppers Carried by Escalators Into the Flames. The character could be speaking for his creator, because human imperfection is one of Denis Johnson's specialties -- in his critically acclaimed novels, sho "Perfection is not the basis of what I'm talking about," says a member of the Cassandra family, which forms the center of Denis Johnson's plays, Hellhound on My Trail and Shoppers Carried by Escalators Into the Flames. The character could be speaking for his creator, because human imperfection is one of Denis Johnson's specialties -- in his critically acclaimed novels, short stories, and nonfiction, and, now, in two brilliant new plays. These two works present a dramatized field guide to some of the more dysfunctional and dysphoric inhabitants of the American West: a sexual-misconduct investigator who misconducts herself sexually; a renegade Jehovah's Witness who supports his splinter Jehovean group by dealing drugs; the Cassandra Brothers and their father and their grandmother, thrown together at a family reunion/wedding/melee at their shabby homestead in Ukiah, California. When Shoppers Carried by Escalators Into the Flames was performed in San Francisco in 2001, the Chronicle said, "There's an enormous appeal in Johnson's bleak-comic vision of a semi-mythic American West." That appeal derives from the author's perfect vision of imperfection, embodied with such energy and courage in these marvelous pieces of theatre.

30 review for Shoppers: Two Plays by Denis Johnson

  1. 4 out of 5

    Neil

    Garbage.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Diann Blakely

    If your thoughts run toward the apocalyptic, political or familial, and you're considering a family trip, you might also consider packing copies of SHOPPERS, a book of two award-winning plays by poet, fiction writer and essayist Denis Johnson, and ANGELS, a reprint of his first novel, published in 1977. The former takes place in Houston, Texas, and Ukiah, Calif., focusing on an ur-dysfunctional family, sexual harassment investigators and various ecclesiastical figures, including a theologically If your thoughts run toward the apocalyptic, political or familial, and you're considering a family trip, you might also consider packing copies of SHOPPERS, a book of two award-winning plays by poet, fiction writer and essayist Denis Johnson, and ANGELS, a reprint of his first novel, published in 1977. The former takes place in Houston, Texas, and Ukiah, Calif., focusing on an ur-dysfunctional family, sexual harassment investigators and various ecclesiastical figures, including a theologically and ethically imperfect circle that finances its ministry through dealing drugs. Indeed, failings and flaws are what drive these two plays: “Perfection is not the basis of what I’m talking about,” says one of the Cassandras, the resonantly named family at the core of SHOPPERS. The Houstons, the familial protagonists of ANGELS, would agree wholeheartedly. That book’s prophets manqué, thieves and addicts, however despicable their actions, remain timely representatives of the search for meaning in a country where too much is free and too little valued, including the possibilities for genuine freedom in our own lives. In their wayward questing, the Houstons are not unlike drug-amped contemporary Magi, and their thoughts, actions and longings are rendered with a hallucinatory yet universal quality that confounds attempts at paraphrase. Witness the following excerpt: “As he walked beside the road,” Johnson writes of ANGELS' James Houston, “he felt his anger burning up in the heat of noon, and saw himself, as he often did when he was outdoors on hot days, being forged in enormous fires for some purpose beyond his imagining. He was only walking down a street toward a barroom, and yet in his own mind he took his part in the eternity of this place. It seemed to him—it was not the first time—that he belonged in Hell, and would always find himself joyful in its midst. It seemed to him that to touch James Houston was to touch one iota of the vast grit that made the desert and hid the fires at the center of the earth.” (originally published in the NASHVILLE SCENE)

  3. 4 out of 5

    Nelson Maddaloni

    Denis Johnson has written much, much better. This wasn't completely terrible but it was all over the map and confusing for a play. The dialogue was okay and it felt natural but it got bogged down in what seemed like light science fiction, especially when he'd done a lot better in "Fiskadoro". Maybe it was because it was his first attempt at theater? I'm not sure, but it was a weaker entry into the Denis Johnson bibliography. Denis Johnson has written much, much better. This wasn't completely terrible but it was all over the map and confusing for a play. The dialogue was okay and it felt natural but it got bogged down in what seemed like light science fiction, especially when he'd done a lot better in "Fiskadoro". Maybe it was because it was his first attempt at theater? I'm not sure, but it was a weaker entry into the Denis Johnson bibliography.

  4. 4 out of 5

    David

    Moments of brilliance, but not close enough together. Feels unfocused and forced at times. But oh those moments of brilliance.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Alissa

    Saw these plays performed at Viaduct Theater. Johnson was involved and we actually went to the same performance he attended, which was a thrilling moment for me. I still remember his sandals.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Angus McKeogh

    Johnson should stick to novels. Just terrible.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Funke

    Not my thing. Though if I had come up with the title "Shoppers Carried by Escalators Into the Flames" I suppose I would have written a play or two as well. Not my thing. Though if I had come up with the title "Shoppers Carried by Escalators Into the Flames" I suppose I would have written a play or two as well.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Brandon

    I love this dude's dialogue! I love this dude's dialogue!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sab

  10. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

  11. 5 out of 5

    Chris Walker

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ethan

  13. 4 out of 5

    Yvonne

  14. 4 out of 5

    July Monday

  15. 5 out of 5

    Dylan Alford

  16. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Olson

  17. 5 out of 5

    Mike

  18. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

  19. 4 out of 5

    Augustus

  20. 4 out of 5

    Brian Hacker

  21. 5 out of 5

    Renée

  22. 5 out of 5

    Kirby Gann

  23. 4 out of 5

    Alex Cox

  24. 4 out of 5

    Gadi Elkon

  25. 4 out of 5

    David Wraith

  26. 5 out of 5

    Marvin

  27. 4 out of 5

    brian

  28. 4 out of 5

    Shane F

  29. 4 out of 5

    Michael

  30. 5 out of 5

    Guy Salvidge

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