Canyon Examines the Chasm Between Cultures

Leigh Kennicott Reviews - Theater
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How does it happen that, with the best of intentions, racial assumptions and inherent distrust bubble up when people feel their property at risk?  Playwright Jonathan Caren takes that situation to illustrate how quickly trust – and intercultural relationships –  can unravel. In Canyon there are issues aplenty, addressing almost every 30-something dilemma. He clearly hits a nerve with LA’s social dynamics in his play.

 

An upwardly mobile young couple relish owning their first home trendily perched above a scenic canyon. Jake (Adam Shapiro) and Beth (Christine Woods) are expecting their first child, which sends Jake on an expansive quest to renovate.  When he employs Eduardo (Geoffrey Rivas), a hard-working Latino contractor along with his college-aged son, Rodrigo (Luca Oriel), to expand his deck over the canyon, the stage is set for misunderstanding. Will (Brandon Scott), an attorney visiting from the east coast with his wife, Dahlia (Stefanie  Black), fuels a confrontation when he warns Jake that he’s liable for a potential lawsuit after Eduardo suffers an accident. His speculations fuel Jake’s inherent but hitherto unvoiced racism. In the meantime, the Eastern couple’s domestic squabbles plant seeds of doubt about children and marriage in Beth’s consciousness.

 

Caren’s writing is so visceral that one almost wants to jump out of the audience and throttle his characters. It certainly helps to have an accomplished cast from IAMA Theatre Company interacting with players from the Latino Theater Company to create an explosive evening. Director Whitney White keeps the pressure-cooking up a great head of steam. In particular, both Caren’s dialogue and White’s direction make Will and Dahlia’s argument over divorce one of the most explosive scenes.

Produced sparingly by IAMA company, Melissa Trn’s costumes, Jeff Gardner’s music and ambient sounds, and R.S. Buck’s simple light plot keep focus on the platform stage. Daniel Soule’s subtle set pieces represent the canyon deck, while its surroundings, made up of the theatre back walls, stairs, and catwalk, function as a part of the house.  For the final scene, however, the off-stage area doesn’t allow us to witness young Rodrigo eavesdropping on the incriminating conversation. Therefore we miss Caren’s otherwise careful justification for the final explosive scene.

In the wake of NIMBY protests over proposed homeless sheltering in every council district in Los Angeles, this play conveys a timely message.

Canyon continues Thursday through Saturday at 8:00 pm; Sundays at 4:00 pm; until March 24th, 2019, at The Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 Spring Street Los Angeles 90013. All tickets are $38.00.  Purchase by phone at  (866) 811-4111 or online at http://thelatc.org.