Calamity West has written a play set in a near future so plausible it feels as though we’re already, inescapably, locked into it. Produced by the Jackalope Theatre Company, In the Canyon begins in 2007 with Hope (Liz Sharpe) and her dud of a boyfriend, Doug, (Andrew Burden Swanson) on the afternoon they’ve ended an unintentional pregnancy. It’s a rational decision made by an ordinary woman, but this choice sets off a lifelong chain of events that carries us all the way to 2067. As we leapfrog from decade to decade in each subsequent scene, we watch America dismantled by patriarchal nationalist fervor. Mother earth rebels.
Under Elly Green’s direction the story stays grounded and intimate as the characters’ circumstances become increasingly untenable. In a disquieting church basement scene, Inauguration Day 2017, Hope’s mother (Shariba Rivers) is afraid to tell her husband (Peter Moore) she didn’t vote for Trump while two other women grapple with the punitive surveillance of the church community against female and queer members, even as it simultaneously protects misbehaving straight men. This play makes clear the future cost women pay for being polite, accommodating, acquiescent in the present. As we barrel through the decades the world grows more hostile and dangerous and the interpersonal violence against women happening at the beginning of the story gives way to organized, systemic societal violence.
The canyon of the play’s title is both metaphor, and a literal destination. William Boles’s high walled set combined with John Kelly and Shelbi Arndt’s ominous lighting invoke a canyon atmosphere. Protected titles and images at the top of each scene (Shain Longbehn) locate us in space and time, while tieing into a discussion of movies, and one movie in particular, The Usual Suspects, with references threaded through the play, a touchstone that satisfyingly becomes a plot point in an explosive final scene between Shariba Rivers and Peter Moore.
In the Canyon is about the consequences, not only of our actions but also of our inaction, on everything from climate change to reproductive rights. It examines both the impending scarcity of resources and the collapse of due process and constitutional protections. This crisis is upon us. A crisis we could have prevented. But, although there is much to despair here, ultimately this play is grounded in West’s worldview that faith, love and the courage of our convictions are our most powerful weapons against tyranny and the most important legacy we have to pass to future generations.
PLAYWRIGHT: Calamity West
DIRECTOR: Elly Green
Helen Joo Lee
Andrew Burden Swanson
Scenic Designer: William Boles
Lighting Designer: John Kelly & Shelbi Ardnt
Costume Designer: Rachel Sypniewski
Sound/Projection Designer: Shain Longbehn
Props Designer: Dana Macel
Stage Manager: Devonte Washington
Production Manager: Kasey Trouba
Casting Director: Catherine Miller
Dramaturg: Dani Wieder
Fight Choreographer: Sam Hubbard
Technical Director: Alex Hand
Script Supervisor: Hanna Kime
Assistant Director: Almanya Narula
Assistant Stage Manager: Taran Snodgress
Co-Lighting Designer: Shelbi Arndt
Graphic Designer Jake Freund
Program Designer: Michelle Maurer
Photographer: Joel Maisonet