Dry Land May Cause Dry Heaves

Dry Land, written by Ruby Rae Spiegel is directed by The Wilbury Theatre Group’s artistic director, Josh Short, for its New England premiere. The play, set in a high school girl’s swim team locker room, focuses on two girls navigating teen friendship and an unwanted pregnancy. Amy, played by Andrea Reid, is the so-called “mean girl,” friending and unfriending new girl in town Ester, played by Julia Bartoletti, whose focus is on getting picked by a Division One college swim team. The set is filled with members of the swim team, who also act as stagehands throughout the show. Emeline Easton’s beautiful singing and guitar playing fill scene transitions.

The play opens with Amy begging Ester to repeatedly punch her in the stomach. It’s clear she is pregnant and struggling to get rid of “it” by avoiding the traditional abortion route, i.e., telling her mom and going to an abortion clinic (a pointed commentary on current parental notification laws).

Circling Amy and Ester’s up and down relationship is Reba, played perfectly by Sarah Leach. Amy plays it mean and aloof in front of Ester whenever Reba is present. While I believe the playwright means to situate Reba as the “cool” girl, her character is left without an arc – I wondered what purpose her presence served. While Amy (Andrea Reid) plays the hot and cold friendship flawlessly, Ester (Julia Bartoletti) at times seems to be trying too hard, which could be a directorial choice. For example, the brief scene between Ester and Victor, played by Patrick Saunders, seemed out of place and the acting overexpressed.

The climax of the play, while dramatic, is gory. Audiences unprepared for it will be shocked. The night I attended, one audience member passed out while another ran out with a green face.

I see a lot of plays where the play is the “thing” or not the “thing.” In Dry Land, the acting is mostly very solid, the direction adept and the set is a perfectly designed locker room that bears a working shower. The show is memorable and certainly conversation-inducing.

“As a father to two girls, the lack of resources and shame that Amy and Ester deal with in the play was very striking to me. It’s not an accident that this play takes place in Florida, where Governor Bush so proudly defunded Planned Parenthood … and with the current national discussion it’s important to me as a father, as an artist, and as someone who considers himself a feminist, that we get away from the politics over it all and put a face on the girls who go through this,” said director Josh Short.

However, the controversial topic of abortion does not seem to connect well to the challenges faced by these teenagers as they navigate their friendship. I’m struggling to understand if this play is about friendship or a commentary on abortion. It’s trying to be both, which makes for uncomfortable bedfellows. This is not the fault of the director or actors. It’s a question to the playwright who left me feeling confused by its message and wondering, “What was the point?”

Find Dry Land at The Wilbury Group, 393 Broad St, PVD, thru Oct. 3

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