Review: "Canyon" at Los Angeles Theatre Center

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  • Jill Weinlein, Chief Los Angeles Critic

Walking into the intimate theatre at Los Angeles Theatre Center to see Jonathan Caren’s newest play ‘Canyon’, I admired the three-sided thrust stage allowing the audience greater intimacy to see and hear the actors onstage.

The majority of the show takes place on a raised wooden deck with potted plants, a bench, an outdoor table and chairs. Scenic designers Daniel Soule and Ryan Wilbat include a stairway leading up to the house of Jake (Adam Shapiro) and Beth (Christine Woods), a 30+ white couple living the American Dream. They recently bought their first home with the money left to Jake from his deceased father. Beth is newly pregnant and the bread winner, working as a doctor at County hospital. The time is during the 2016 Presidential elections, and Beth mentions donating to the Hillary campaign.

We first meet Eduardo (Geoffrey Rivas) a hardworking Latino handyman who brings his 18 year old son Rodrigo (Luca Oriel) with him to help build a retaining wall at Jake and Beth’s new home. Working seven days a week, Eduardo barely gets by while raising his family in America. He dreams of helping to pay for his son’s college and one day moving back to his homeland in Mazatlán.

Jake admires the father/son relationship Eduardo and Rodrigo share together. He and his own father had a strained relationship. Eduardo has a way of upselling a job that is a a win-win situation for all. He convinces Jake that if he extends the deck, he will have a better canyon view.

Soon when Jake’s college buddy Will (Brandon Scott) and his wife Dahlia (Stefanie Black) visit for a couple’s getaway weekend, the plot turns south. Jake advises Will to “weather out the storm and not be a man who abandons the ship” when he reveals he is ready to divorce Dahlia. Life for each character starts crumbling due to financial disappointments, parenting challenges and relationship disputes.

There are three family units in this show, Eduardo and son Rodrigo, Jake and Beth, and Will and Dahlia. All are tested beyond their comfort zones, especially after an accident that happens at the house. Director Whitney White keeps the pace moving throughout the show, especially during the most dramatic scenes.

Sound designer Jeff Gardner has the audience laughing during a snoring episode, and jump in their seat as coyotes howl in the canyon, police sirens blare and cell phones ring throughout the show.

After the show, the cast invited an immigration attorney up on stage and opened a discussion with the audience. Since the show was created before President Trump got into office, it is even more important today for audiences to see how the division of race in our culture is even more threatening in our lives.

Rivas asked if we thought there were any winners in the show, and we all agreed no one comes out as a winner, except for the audience. Each well acted character in Caren’s timely poignant play must decide how to do the right or wrong thing to achieve their own American dream.

IAMA partners with Latino Theatre Company for the world premiere of 'Canyon'. The show is produced by Patti Anne Miller and associate produced by Holiday Kinard. Associate director Colleen Labella and lighting by R. S. Buck. Co-Stage Managers Robert Mahaffie and Lucy Houlihan. Ryan Wilbat is assistant scenic designer and Red Colgrove helped build the set. The understudies are Aynsley Bubbico, J. Claude Deering, Chris Gardner, Ray Oriel, Alexandra Wright and Matt Yepez. Tickets are $38 now through March 24.Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 p.m.. Sundays at 4 p.m.

Los Angeles Theatre Center (LATC), 514 South Spring Street, Los Angeles. Reservations: 866 811-4111.