What happens when you’re faced with the unthinkable? What happens when you’re uninformed and faced with the unthinkable? That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the present-day half of Forum Theatre’s #NastyWomenRep. With two shows cycling through the repertory rotation, both dealing with extremely important women’s rights issues, Dry Land, written by Ruby Rae Spiegel, dives headlong and unapologetically into the dicey subjects of abortion; more specifically Spiegel’s work addresses the notion of DIY-abortion in a high school setting, drawing to the forefront combustible conversation starters about the rights, education, and overall access to information and health care of women. Directed by Amber Paige McGinnis, this harrowingly brutal drama explores the harsh reality of such a situation through an emotionally traumatic 90-minute theatrical experience.
This is not the place to mix words; those of a weaker constitution when it comes to simulation and gory special effects should approach this work with caution. Playwright Ruby Rae Spiegel doesn’t hold her punches when it comes to the severity, finality, and overall visceral nature of what she’s presenting with Dry Land. The play is a powder keg for debate and conversation over the long-standing hot-button issue of a woman’s right to choose, though ironically enough it’s not the right to choose that truly comes into play here but rather the frightening reality of what a typical American teenage girl living in today’s world is faced with when finding herself in this situation. Spiegel doesn’t preach Pro Choice versus Pro Life, but does draw unabashed attention to the fact that Pro Information is the side we should all be standing on; no girl in Amy’s situation should lack alternative, safe options when it comes to the difficult decision of whether or not to have an abortion.
Spiegel does an exceptional job of capturing the modern-day American teenager. The language utilized, particularly in the vein of up-speak as presented by Reba (Thais Menendez), is revoltingly accurate to any conversation you might overhear inside a girl’s locker room in small town America. The dynamic that Spiegel pens between the two main characters of Amy and Ester is a challenging one; Director Amber Paige McGinnis takes this challenge to heart and delivers dynamic scenes from the moment the show gets under way. Spiegel’s writing is raw in a passionate fashion, delivering savage truths and realities without apology. The way she crafts the plot’s arc and overall character transitions between Amy and Ester makes one question whether or not the inclusion of Reba— and near the end of the play, the nameless others from the swim team— are even necessary. Spiegel has such a solid piece of work that the inclusion of Reba and the others is in essence superfluity that could readily be edited out for a tighter, more concise performance.
What doesn’t feel superfluous in its creation is the nuance erected in Paige Hathaway’s Set Designer and the subtle yet symbolic use of watery gobos in Sarah Tundermann’s Lighting Design. Hathaway crafts a believably realistic high school swimming pool locker room interior that gives the show its context and a healthy ladle of symbolism. Tundermann echoes that symbolic significance with her lighting plots, complimented by the even subtler soundscape of Sound Designer Sarah O’Halloran. Letting the work speak for itself, which it does quite vocally, the design team outfits the production accordingly, allowing Spiegel’s dialogue and dramatic tension to be the true stars of the show.
The pacing is sharp, the blocking smooth. Director Amber Paige McGinnis draws attention to one particularly profound moment that is deeply symbolic, almost to the point of over-doing it, towards the end of the show. For fear of spoiling the moment, little more can be said then that Matty Griffiths, playing the Janitor, has a pristine moment of excruciating silence that sums up the overall takeaway of the production, placing an innumerable price tag on the show’s worth in that instance. McGinnis does not play it safe with her directorial choices, and while this is no place to mix words, spoilers are equally unwelcome. The way she handles the climax of the production is ruthlessly barbarous and churns up the heart, soul, and stomach in one fell swoop.
A nod of praise should be given to Christina Montgomery, taking on the lone male character (the two-lines of the Janitor notwithstanding, though this character could easily be genderless) in the show. Montgomery is mindful and present, even a bit quirky when interacting with Ester. At firs the character seems almost as superfluous as Reba, whose worth is never fully earned, but at the end of the Victor—Ester exchange, it is suddenly quite clear why the character was penciled into the plot.
Ester (Yakima Rich) and Amy (Emily Whitworth) are neither peas in a pod nor polar opposites and yet somehow there is a dramatic thru-line that unites them without question. Both Rich and Whitworth deliver stellar performances, particularly when it comes to the physical and emotional agony and expressions thereof that their characters encounter. Tumultuous in their emotional fortitude, both Rich and Whitworth craft glorious catastrophes of their character’s pathos, using their bodies, voices, and facial expressions to further explore these caustic moments of traumatic reality shared between one another. Rich in particular crafts a heart-stopping moment of beauty, despite the grotesque and harrowing situation that is erupting around her, late in the performance and it is one of the most memorable instances in her character’s journey.
A core-shaking performance with loaded social topics, Dry Land is a bombastic production that is well situated into the #NastyWomenRep at Forum Theatre.
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes with no intermission
Dry Land plays in rotating repertory with What Every Girl Should Know as a part of the #NastyWomenRep through April 15, 2017 at Forum Theatre in residence at The Silver Spring Black Box Theatre— 8641 Colesville Road in the heart of downtown Silver Spring, MD. To purchase tickets, call the box office at (301) 588-8279 or purchase them online.
To read the TheatreBloom review for What Every Girl Should Know, click here.