Dry Land, though set over 100 years later than its companion piece, What Every Girl Should Know, Forum Theatre’s #nastywomenrep, is an alarming reminder that young women continue to face shame and castigation over sexual issues, in this case, dealing with unexpected pregnancy.
Writer Ruby Rae Spiegel puts the issues of women’s bodies front and center when two young women face off, one urging the other to punch her repeatedly in the stomach, harder, with force, until she doubles over in pain. But that’s obviously not enough to get anything done. So, they ponder securing detergent and other substances to scrub out the unwanted mass.
All this happens in a women’s locker room with benches to sit and recline, floor tiles on both sides of the stage, and lockers for clothes and swim accessories. The world in the eyes of these young teenage women is firmly fixed, even fixated, on being strong and fit enough to meet the coach’s standards and stay on the team to win matches. Here’s where victory is won in milliseconds, so every muscle fiber is pushed to the limit to shave off time, just as they shave their almost non-existent body hair to cut down resistance. Pregnancy does Not Fit in the short or long term plans and they have only each other to rely on to do something about it.
Spiegel has an ear for young banter and director Amber Paige McGinnis assures a bold fluidity in everyone’s movements, responses, and reactions. The interaction between the two main characters Emily Whitworth as Amy and Yakima Rich as Ester is beautifully rendered, especially considering the sub-layers of motivation for each. The performances are even more striking considering their very different portrayals in What Every Girl Should Know and worth a visit to both to appreciate the artistry.
Amy will stop at nothing to end the unwanted pregnancy that is ruining her life and she targets Ester to be her confidant to get it done. As Amy, Whitworth strides into her scenes like she owns the place and is used to getting her props. She calls it like she sees it, tells off-color jokes and has a cavalier reaction to anything that doesn’t involve her. Ester is an easy target since she follows Amy’s every move, is attentive to her snack requests and is either smitten or mesmerized by Amy’s aura, or both. Always needing to stay in the spotlight and in charge, Amy bullies Ester and humiliates her in front of the others.
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Ester retreats and extracts herself, finding company with young Victor while on the road for a swim meet, in a nice interchange played well by Christian Montgomery. Ester returns with more backbone to confront Amy, but relents as Amy is in the throes of ending the pregnancy. The moment that the two share on the locker room floor, and the wordless actions by Matty Griffiths to clean up the grimy mess, is a masterful performance by all. Thais Menendez who struts and preens as fellow swimmer Reba is sheer delightful to watch. Reba is oblivious to the life-altering reality of her teammate and brings a charming relief to the dire consequences that Amy is living through.
Lighting by Sarah Tundermann mimics undulating blue water waves reflecting on the ceiling and street clothing peels off and over the ever present colorful bathing suits with ease, costumes by Heather Lockard.
It’s alarming just how similar the issues are in the two repertory pieces set 100+years apart, a reminder that on the surface we seem to have come so far, yet when plunged beneath, it’s apparent how far we have to go.
Dry Land by Ruby Rae Spiegel . Directed by Amber Paige McGinnis . Cast: Thais Menendez, Yakima Rich, Emily Whitworth, Christian Montgomery, Matty Griffiths . Lighting Design – Sarah Tundermann . Sound Design –Sarah O’Halloran . Set Designer – Paige Hathaway . Costume and Properties— Heather Lockard . Stage Manager: Laura Wood . Produced by Forum Theatre . Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson.