Dry Land
Martha Brigham, Grace Ng. Photo: Ben Krantz

Dry Land

Shotgun Players, Berkeley

Ashby Stage, Berkeley, California
Written by Ruby Rae Spiegel
Directed by Ariel Craft
Starring Martha Brigham, Grace Ng
Through June 17, 2018

Two teen-aged girls on a Florida high school swim team navigate the precarious path to female adulthood and friendship in Ruby Rae Spiegel’s honest, meaningful and intense 90-minute drama, “Dry Land.” It premiered in New York City when Spiegel was only 21 years old, and the author captures fully the emotional tumult and turmoil of girls too soon reaching womanhood. The two main characters are wholly natural, convincing and complete, from their psychological issues to their speech, body language as well as their interactions with each other. We immediately care about what happens to Amy and Ester.

Mostly set in the girls’ locker room, the play’s very first words tell us that discontented and superficially tough Amy (excellent Martha Brigham) is pregnant and clearly doesn’t want to be. “Punch me,” she says to Ester (first-rate Grace Ng), a shy newcomer on land, but a super-competitive swimmer in the water.

Amy is pregnant by a boy she no longer dates, and who does not appear as a character in the drama. Florida law mandates parental notification for an abortion, and since Amy doesn’t want her mother to know about her situation, she seeks help from the internet, entreating lonely Ester’s cooperation with schemes from being punched in the belly, to using laundry detergent, to taking the abortion pill. A word of warning, there is one scene that is disturbing and bloody. Just be prepared for it and admire the exquisite acting under the skillful direction of Ariel Craft.

It is unlikely that the two swimmers would have been friends absent Amy’s condition, yet, over the course to the play, they grow close, giggle together and exchange secrets, although they maintain a slight wariness with each other. When a third swimmer, titularly Amy’s best friend, Reba (Amy Nowak makes the most of her smaller role), enters the locker room, the dynamics among the girls change radically.

With greater realism than most fictionalized accounts of teen-aged pregnancies, “Dry Land” is not a political exposé, nor does it state a position on unwanted pregnancies. However, Amy’s dire predicament will resonant with every woman who has found herself in a similar situation. She sees her dreams— she wants to leave Florida and become a writer — slipping out of her control. And by the end of the one-act play, Amy’s braggadocio has disappeared and she is left to confront her anxiety about the future alone.

When I read about the subject matter of “Dry Land” I confess that I was ambivalent about seeing it, but I’m glad that I did. With an emotionally impactful script, fine acting and direction, “Dry Land” is significant and memorable.

This review first appeared on Berkeleyside.com

By Emily S. Mendel

© Emily S. Mendel 2018

San Francisco ,
Emily S. Mendel, a writer and photographer, has been a regular contributor to culturevulture.net since 2006, where she reviews theater, art, film, television and destinations. Ending her 30-year law practice has given Ms. Mendel the time to indulge in her love of travel and the arts, and to serve as the theater reviewer for berkeleyside.com.