“Well I believe in God, and the only thing that scares me is Keyser Söze.”
The above quote is from the 1995 film The Usual Suspects – a movie that acts as a through line in Jackalope Theatre’s latest world premiere, and that quote acts as the first of many references to the film. For those who are unfamiliar with the film, Keyser Söze refers to the mythical crime lord in the story that no one has ever seen, but carries great power through rumors. When Hope (Liz Sharpe) makes the reference, she and her boyfriend are on the couch discussing religion, and she means it as a lighthearted joke in a response to a very serious question about whether or not she believes in God. What starts as an easy conversation between a couple quickly blows up over the course of the play, and what the audience may not realize at first is that the playwright is inviting them to consider the unknown – and the very real dangers that can come with it.
Jackalope Theatre presents World Premiere, In the Canyon:
Written by Calamity West and directed by Elly Green, In the Canyon covers fifty years of time – from January 20, 2007 through January 20, 2067 – including the day that Donald Trump was inaugurated as President of the United States on January 20, 2017. Each scene covers one day in that given year, and the only character that remains consistent is Hope (Liz Sharpe, who, in this writer's view, fills the challenging role with a stellar performance and brutal sense of honesty), who the audience encounters at various points of her life. The remaining seven ensemble members cover the characters that interact with her in those key moments, from family to old friends, and romantic partners. West’s play explores the current attack on abortion, considering the past and the imagined future of what can happen given the current political situation.
West’s script is powerful, and Green crafts a production that is fast-paced and to the point. West unapologetically asks the audience to consider America’s present, and the dangers that can ensue if a change does not take place. Within the piece the debate over abortion grows into an attack on women and the choices, or lack thereof, they have the ability to make over their bodies. This writer does not want to reveal the ending, but can say that West’s potent message is clear, and creates a dark and frightening vision of what this country could become.
While the play is certainly frightening and dark, West is careful to include a small glimmer of hope which is key. Again, this writer does not want to give away the ending, but part of the strength of the piece is that West certainly warns the audience, but also gives them a reason to keep on fighting. It is easy to become lost in all of the chaos both within the world of the play and outside in the world in which West is writing; however, that hope that things can someday change Is a strong reason to keep the dialogue going.
The World of the Play
Scenic Designer William Boles carries no small task of covering fifty years of time in a small space, but he certainly rises to the occasion. Jackalope’s small, intimate space at the Broadway Armory creates the perfect location – forcing the audience to confront the truths of West’s play with little room for escape. Boles creates a box on stage in which each scene takes place, covering the walls with a spotted brown fabric that can easily transform. Whether the scene takes place in a cheap apartment, a church basement, or even a jail cell.
The bleak, fabric-covered walls evoke a feeling of despair contribute to the overall sensation of the impending apocalypse in the play, to which the artistic team as a whole contributes. In between each scene, a black curtain comes down, and Sound and Projection Designer Shain Longbehn projects the next date and scene title onto the surface. Longbehn utilizes a static aesthetic into the projections that further enforce the apocalyptic-feel.
West’s play jumps through space and time quickly, and Green’s production appropriately matches that pacing. The ensemble as a whole certainly rises to the occasion, even with the task of playing so many contrasting and different characters with very little time in between to switch. Shariba Rivers and Peter Moore as Actor Six and Actor Seven carry a particularly interesting track – beginning as a married couple devoted to the church, and later performing in a completely different power dynamic as a criminal on the run and a military officer sent to “handle” the situation. Moore and Rivers portray that switch gracefully, and create an especially frightening and effective relationship as the criminal and officer.
A strong ensemble and striking script make In the Canyon, in this writer’s opinion, a play to see. West responds to the current moment with warnings and questions, inviting the audience to participate in the dialogue that has already begun. At the very least, the events that ensue are certainly unforgettable.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Paloma Nozicka… Actor One
Helen Joo Lee… Actor Two
Andrew Burden Swanson… Actor Three
Liz Sharpe… Actor Four
Asia Jackson… Actor Five
Shariba Rivers… Actor Six
Peter Moore… Actor Seven
Diego Colón… Actor Eight
William Boles… Scenic Designer
John Kelly… Lighting Designer
Rachel Sypniewski… Costume Designer
Shain Longbehn… Sound/Projection Designer
Dana Macel… Props Designer
Dani Wieder… Dramaturg
Sam Hubbard…. Fight Choreographer
Devonte Washington… Stage Manager
Running through November 24, 2018
Thursdays at 8:00pm
Fridays at 8:00pm
Saturdays at 8:00pm
Sundays at 3:00pm
Broadway Armory Park
5917 N Broadway Avenue
Chicago, IL 60660
About the Author:
Lauren Katz is a freelance director and dramaturge, and new to the Chicago Theatre Scene. She recently moved from Washington DC, where she worked with Mosaic Theater Company of DC in Company Management, as well as directed around town with various theaters.
Click here to read more Picture this Post stories by Lauren Katz.