In previous works, including her thrilling horror play Hinter earlier this year, Chicago writer Calamity West has explored the gaps between truth, perception and reality. Her new play, In the Canyon, is something different: a full-throated, pro-choice, pro-women, anti-Trump war cry. It still has room for ambiguities—spiritual ones, in particular—but its purpose is sharply clear. To say that West goes heavy on politics here would be like saying that Hamlet goes heavy on verse.
In the Canyon is divided into five sections: It starts on January 20th, 2007, and each subsequent scene moves 10 or 20 years forward on the same date. In Part One, a young movie buff named Hope (Liz Sharpe) returns to her apartment after having an abortion, and comes to realize just how awful her boyfriend (played by Andrew Swanson) really is. Ten years later, in the basement of her parent’s evangelical church, she watches Donald Trump’s inauguration. A decade after that, things have gone full George Orwell—or, more accurately, full Margaret Atwood—and a retroactive ban on abortion means that Hope is facing a life on the run.
What the play sometimes lacks in world-building, it makes up in nuanced characters. Director Elly Green lets loose a talented cast of eight inside a striking marble cube (designed by William Boles and well lit by John Kelly and Shelbi Arndt), whose surface spills out over the proscenium to frame and contain the action. This letterboxing, evocative of Hope’s cinephilia, has an unnervingly claustrophobic effect. Even in the early scenes, before things go totally haywire, Hope already seems caged in.
In the Canyon sees the dystopian darkness of the future as the endpoint of a rapidly dimming present. As Hope notes, the world has always been this way—just at a lower volume. The most viscerally disturbing moment in the whole show comes when a pregnant woman (Paloma Nozicka) is forced by two men to stand up against her will, despite her loud and angry protestations. That scene is set in 2017.
Jackalope Theatre Company. By Calamity West. Directed by Elly Green. With Liz Sharpe, Paloma Nozicka, Peter Moore, Andrew Swanson, Diego Colón, Helen Joo Lee, Shariba Rivers, Asia Jackson. Running time: 2hrs. One intermission.