DRY LAND

Teagan Rose and Connor Kelly-Eiding reprise their fearless star turns in Ruby Rae Spiegel’s darkly comic, graphically disturbing Dry Land, a 2016 Echo Theatre Company smash now returning to riveting, larger-sized life as the third and final offering of Center Theatre Group’s Kirk Douglas Theatre Block Party 2017.

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 Star-Making Performance Scenie winners Rose and Kelly-Eiding once again doing extraordinary work under Alana Dietze’s incisive, nuanced Scenie-winning 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, a physically and emotionally gut-wrenching role that Rose attacks to unforgettable effect.

Kelly-Eiding brings not only coltish awkwardness and insecurity to the hitherto best-friendless Ester but also 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 so memorable, it won Horwitz an Outstanding Featured Actor Scenie.

Jenny Soo is delightfully ditzy perfection as Florida “Valley Girl” Reba. Dan Hagen reprises his brief but indelible appearance as a school janitor no longer fazed by the unexpected. Swim team cameos are believably rendered by Jacqueline Besson, Alexandra Freeman, Francesca O’Hern, Bukola Ogunmola, Sidne Phillips, and Tessa Hope Slovis.

Reunited too is the production design team that made last year’s Echo Theatre production such a stunner, and if anything the transition to the much larger Kirk Douglas stage makes Dry Land even more effective, upping realism with scenic designer Amanda Knehans’ locker room seemingly transported lock, stock, and lockers from a neighborhood high school

Justin Huen lights said locker room with consummate expertise, Jeff Gardner’s accomplished sound design once melds alternative rock with underwater sounds to striking effect, and this year at the Douglas, the design duo make Amy and Ester’s slow motion exit at one particularly pivotal moment a thing of exquisite beauty and pain.

Elena Flores’s terrific costumes rage from swim team attire to janitor wear to college casual, and the production’s “special effects” are even more disturbingly authentic this time round as is Ahmed Best’s challenging, convincing fight choreography.

Lindsay Allbaugh is Center Theatre Group associate producer. Anna Engelsman is production stage manager. Maggie Swing is stage manager.

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 now giving two of the year’s most dazzling performances two years in a row, it is a play you’ll be thinking about long after the locker room fades to black.

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Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City.
www.centertheatregroup.org

–Steven Stanley
May 14, 2017
Photos: Craig Schwartz

 

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