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In the Canyon
by Catey Sullivan
2018-10-29

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Playwright: Calamity West

At: Jackalope Theatre at the Broadway Armory, 5719 N. Broadway. Tickets: JackalopeTheatre.org; $30. Runs through: Nov. 25

Here's the thing about abortions. Despite what Republicans and many men of all persuasions insist, they don't generally leave women with a lifetime of weeping trauma and regret.

As Calamity West underscores with In the Canyon, the procedure is fast, safe and about a painful as a severe case of menstrual cramps. As Hope ( Liz Sharpe ) makes clear in the first segment of In the Canyon's five-part, 60-year span, abortion does not result in some baby ghost that haunts you for the rest of your days.

Tellingly, the most traumatic part of Hope's abortion is the ensuing judgment. Sometimes that judgment is merely annoying, as when her boyfriend ( actually, some guy she slept with a few times ) has a tantrum because his budget took a hit on account of Hope getting pregnant. Hey, if Hope can afford a post-abortion burrito, why is the boyfriend stuck paying the doctor's bill? And sometimes, as in the not-so-shocking future that In the Canyon imagines, that judgment has far more dire consequences.

For those of us who remember the pre-Roe v. Wade world, Wes's depiction of the future is a not entirely inaccurate reflection of the past ( or present, depending on where in the world you live ). Pre-Roe, abortion could mean prison time—or, all too easily, death.

Starting in 2007, In the Canyon follows Hope and eventually Hope's daughter Wendy ( a magnificent Shariba Rivers ) through roughly 60 years. Over the decades, the world of Obama becomes the world of Trump and then a world not unlike Margaret Atwood's Gilead.

That a fiftysomething woman could be legally murdered for a legal procedure she had decades earlier seems, on the surface, almost unthinkable But as deftly directed by Elly Green, In the Canyon shows just how the unthinkable becomes normalized.

As that progression unfolds, In the Canyon become alternately exhausting and distressing before ultimately landing in violent catharsis. It's far better to take the energy you'd spend bemoaning your weariness and use it to actually do something—work a phone bank, canvas for progressive candidates, learn to use a shotgun.

West writes like a vise, slowly tightening the screws until her characters are trapped and her audience is rapt. Sharpe's Hope and Rivers' Wendy provide the ferocity that keeps In the Canyon moving relentlessly from the present into the foreseeable future. But Green's mostly double-cast supporting cast ( Paloma Nozicka, Peter Moore, Andrew Swanson, Diego ColÃ"n, Helen Joo Lee and Asia Jackson ) is ruthlessly effective. You'll know these people, from the annoying roommate to the scarlet-red, evangelizing relatives you really don't want to see at Thanksgiving.

Green's design team use stark visuals to enrich the story and amp up the tension. Cinderblock gray and deceptively simple, William Boles' set morphs from apartment to prison cell to frontier outpost with grace and efficacy. Shain Longbehn's sound and projection design gives the production a gritty, kinetic, cinematic feel.

West is far too gifted to preach or hammer the obvious, endless hypocrisies of the anti-choice, "Christian" right. Those points come through with insidious, chilling banality, especially when Hope gets together with her family in the wake of the 2017 election.


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