Conundrum. Quandary. No exit. The Gordian knot that no sharp Alexandrian sword will serve to solve. This is the situation in which the characters in Jonathan Caren’s new play, Canyon, find themselves in the world premiere production served up by the partnership of IAMA Theatre Company and Latino Theatre Company.
The opening scenes reveal Jake (Adam Shapiro), a self-proclaimed househusband, and his aspiring, hard charging doctor wife, Beth (Christine Woods), who is a few months pregnant. They live in a canyon house built in the 1920s that has a fine view from their deck. Which canyon? Take your pick. Southern California abounds in them. The couple is wonderfully affectionate with each other, laughing and loving with unalloyed ease. They employ a skilled Mexican worker, Eduardo (Geoffrey Rivas), to repair a retaining wall, aided from time to time by his son, Rodrigo (Luca Oriel), a snappy college-bound youth who wants to major in political science.
As swell as the view is that the house affords, Jake wants more. He envisions a larger deck that will give them a vista of the entire canyon and he engages Eduardo to do the job, which he is happy to do, as it will increase his income at a time when his ambitions for his son are increasingly expensive. The work is done on the fly. No solid estimate and no contract. Jake pays in cash from an inheritance he received when his father, an unscrupulous international businessman, died. The first hint of marital conflict occurs when Beth disagrees with the building plan as an unnecessary expense.
The plot stirs when old friends arrive from New York for a visit. Will (Brandon Scott), an African American public defender, and his white wife, Dahlia (Stefanie Black), a stay-at-home mom with two children, are experiencing marital stress. The easy-going, forward-looking nature of the early scenes starts to morph into unease when Eduardo suffers an accident that puts him into the hospital.
Under the inspired direction of Whitney White, the play plunges head long into the territory of the current time with its rising racism, the increasing divide between the haves and the have-nots, and, inevitably, into the witches stew of illegal immigration, the situation of long-residing, undocumented citizens, and the inflamed rhetoric of those in power. Jonathan Caren’s terrific, tightly plotted script puts it all on the table, served up and steaming, played with gusto by a first class cast of superb actors. Their performances are subtle and searing, comedic early on and increasingly dark as the existential nightmare tightens.
Scenic designer Daniel Soule’s excellent platform represents the deck and gives the audience, seated in a three-quarter square configuration, a fine view of the action. It is with great pleasure that I praise the director’s blocking, which never has the audience straining to see what is going on. And vigorously clapping hands go to the rest of the creative staff—lighting designer R. S. Buck, costume designer Melissa Trn, sound designer Jeff Gardner, assistant scenic designer Ryan Wilbat, and properties master Michael O’Hara. The co-stage managers, Robert Mahaffie and Lucy Houlihan, manage the stage with solid assurance.
Canyon, presented by IAMA Theatre Company in association with the Latino Theatre Company, is a don’t-miss-it hit that runs through March 24 at The Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring Street in Los Angeles.