The turbulent waters of friendship are explored in Ruby Rae Spiegel’s hard-hitting and moving new play Dry Land, now playing at the HERE Arts Center in a Colt Coeur production.
The play mostly takes place in the girls' locker room of a high school in Florida, and centers on two high school swimmers, Amy (Sarah Mezzanotte) and Ester (Tina Ivlev). At the top of the play, Amy asks Ester to “punch me again”. Ester is concerned with the bruises her blows could inflict, but Amy is insistent. During the conversation that follows, which is punctuated by punches to Amy’s stomach, we eventually find out that Amy is pregnant. Desperate to abort the baby as soon as possible, she has enlisted the help of Ester to terminate the unwanted pregnancy.
While this sounds like a synopsis for a pro-life vs. pro-choice play, Ms. Spiegel (who is currently an undergrad at Yale) has wisely chosen to focus on the relationship between the two contrasting young women; Amy is outwardly brittle and jaded, but inwardly frightened and vulnerable. Ester is loquacious and awkward, but has a backbone of steel. The arc of their friendship — from acquaintances to best friends — is gorgeously rendered in both the writing and the performances. There are also healthy doses of dark humor sprinkled throughout the play. “Why can’t you fool the aborted baby? Because it wasn’t born yesterday,” Amy orates at the end of the first scene.
Ms. Mezzanote and Ms. Ivlev are fantastic both individually and together. They are completely believable as teenagers. Watching them onstage makes one feel like a fly on the wall during an actual conversation in the girls' locker room. Alice Kremendahl has a spunky turn as Reba, Amy’s other best friend who inspires both fun and distrust. Matthew Stadelmann only has one scene as Victor, an FSU student whom Ester stays with while being scouted for the school, but uses it to poignantly portray an awkward young man who doesn’t get out much. The entire cast is aided by Ms. Spiegel’s dialogue, which shows an unerring ear for how young people talk, as well as Adrienne Campbell-Holt’s taut direction, which keeps the 90 minute play moving at a brisk pace.
It is astonishing that a playwright of Ms. Spiegel’s age has written such an intense and moving play. She doesn’t waste or mince words, and never delves into cliché or forced sentimentality. Her work is a great companion for Colt Coeur, the Brooklyn-based theater company that specializes in world-premieres of intimate plays about modern life. The company’s dedication to intimacy helps the text achieve an intensity and immediacy that could be lost in a larger space. Hopefully we can look forward to more collaborations between these artists.
Dry Land plays at HERE Arts Center through September 27. For more information, click here.
Playing at the HERE Arts Center through September 27.