Bec Willett is an Australian, Chicago-based director, designer, educator, and writer. She has worked on projects with an array of Chicago theater companies, including 20% Theatre, Chicago Dramatists, City Lit, Dandelion Theatre, Prologue Theatre, and Waltzing Mechanics. To find out more about her work and upcoming projects, please visit becwillett.com.
Pictured: Andrew Burden Swanson and Liz Sharpe. Photo by Sarah Lawson.
By Bec Willett
I have a sick, uneasy knot sitting in my stomach after seeing Jackalope’s production of IN THE CANYON. I doubt it will leave me anytime soon. Calamity West’s new work is an unapologetically and deftly-crafted theatrical edict declaring that if we continue as we are, the future will be anything but female. Yet, West simultaneously manages to splice into this bleakness a celebration of the resilience of women who will fight for what they believe is right no matter the circumstances.
“Remember what I taught you,” fiercely utters Wendy (Shariba Rivers) from 50 years in the future, referencing the lessons that were passed on to her by her mother long ago. Spanning decades and with multiple roles taken on by a cast of eight, IN THE CANYON is a saga that starts with the event of an abortion to an everywoman character named Hope. Through the lens of this character and this choice, West examines how the current treatment of abortion and more generally women’s rights as a whole – is set to evolve into a dire future.
Director Elly Green and the design team – especially William Boles’ scenic design – leave no room for escape or excuses. At different times, the stark grey bunker set serves as apartment, basement, prison, and cabin, as difficult conversations take place between dysfunctional families, roommates, and inmates. While some of these performances are less specifically realized, it’s those like Andrew Burden Swanson’s portrayal of the flaky Doug that ensure the links to our own reality, regardless of the time period, are all too real. The repetition of this setting and the conflicts that occur within it show us how every decision has a consequence, that every seemingly innocuous human right taken away in the present creates permission for an essential one to be taken away in the future.
This play may passionately take on polarizing subject matter but this story is not one told with juvenile fervor. This team of artists has maturely crafted a complexly interconnected, stunning production that is as relentless in its message as West’s writing. There is no preaching here: instead IN THE CANYON mirrors with brutal accuracy the behaviors of our society that we’d rather keep hidden, and the consequences that we’d rather ignore.
IN THE CANYON runs through November 24. More info at jackalopetheatre.org/inthecanyon.