Fearless only begins to describe the performances being given by Teagan Rose and Connor Kelly-Eiding, the two extraordinary young stars of Ruby Rae Spiegel’s darkly comic, graphically disturbing Dry Land, now getting a riveting West Coast Premiere by The Echo Theater Company.
Rose and Kelly-Eiding are high school swim teammates Amy and Ester, whose post-practice locker room conversation (centering on nothing more out of the ordinary than moms, boys, periods, college, and sex) is today punctuated by the repeated stomach punches Amy keeps demanding of her fellow swimmer.
When talk turns to “the Internet pill thing” that would require both a credit card and a fake ID (neither of which either girl has) or the possible imbibing of laundry detergent or Purex or straight vodka, it becomes clear what Amy’s dilemma is and why she’s turned to someone outside her closest social circle to help her out of this jam.
Not much “happens” in Dry Land, at least not until about two-thirds of the way through, mostly teenage chitchat that rings absolutely true, hardly surprising given that Spiegel was barely in her twenties when her play made its 2014 debut.
Dry Land is not for the prudish, nor is it for the squeamish (I repeat, it is not for the squeamish), nor is it simply “a play about abortion,” though it will make you reflect on the topic in a way you may never have before, regardless of whether you consider yourself pro-choice or pro-life or somewhere on the fence.
That playwright Spiegel manages to do this without tipping her own hand makes her work even more remarkable.
Audiences are sure to be talking about Dry Land long after its fade to black, both for the questions it raises (without providing easy answers) and for the absolutely sensational performances Rose and Kelly-Eiding deliver under Alana Dietze’s incisive, nuanced direction.
Rose is absolutely stunning as Amy, a young woman whose tough-cookie exterior serves as armor when forced to face adult challenges without adult wisdom and perspective. The role is a particularly tough one, and as physically and emotional gut-wrenching as they get, and Rose attacks it to unforgettable effect.
Kelly-Eiding brings to the hitherto best-friendless Ester the same coltish awkwardness and insecurity that made her work in this past summer’s Antaeus Company revival of Picnic so memorable, plus the intensity and focus of a girl for whom swimming may be the only ticket out of a go-nowhere small-town Florida life.
Ben Horwitz shines as dork-next-door Victor, a college student who lends Ester a place to crash, a sympathetic ear, and some calamine lotion in a scene that proves a particular treat to anyone who saw Horwitz’s smitten Bomber opposite Kelly-Eiding’s Millie in Picnic.
Jenny Soo makes for an entertainingly flighty Reba, though slowing things down would make Spiegel’s words easier to understand. Dan Hagen makes a brief but effective appearance as a school janitor no longer fazed by the unexpected. Swim team members are believably portrayed by a rotating group of actresses*.
Scenic designer Amanda Knehans places us smack dab inside a locker room so realistic, you can almost smell the chlorine wafting in from the adjacent pool, a set expertly lit by Justin Huen.
Jeff Gardner’s accomplished sound design melds alternative rock with underwater effects. Elena Flores’s terrific costumes rage from swim team attire to janitor wear to college casual, and her “special effects” are disturbingly authentic.
Last but not least (though his name does not appear amidst main-page credits) is Ahmed Best’s challenging, convincing fight choreography.
Dry Land is produced by Chris Field and Alexandra Freeman and Nadia Marina is assistant producer. Hayley Hirsch is assistant director. Anna Engelsman is production stage manager. Casting is by Meg Fister. Matthew MacCready is assistant scenic designer.
Dry Land packs an emotional wallop made even more gut-punching by the gradual way it sneaks up on you. With Teagan Rose and Connor Kelly-Eiding giving two of the year’s most dazzling performances, it is a play you’ll be thinking about long after the locker room fades to black.
Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave, Atwater Village.
April 10, 2016
Photos: Darrett Sanders
*Jacqueline Besson, Alexandra Freeman, Savannah Gilmore, Sarah Hinchcliff, Hayley Hirsch, Lauren Hirte, Elizabeth Lanier, Nadia Marina, Shelby Monaghan, Jessica Moore, Erin Scerbak, Kelsey Sutton, Alexandra Turner