Watching “Dry Land” is like diving back into the tumultuous days of high school, when conversations circled around sex and gossip, lunch time segregated jocks from nerds and letting your guard down meant revealing a part of yourself you wanted to keep hidden from the critical eyes of other teens.
Written by Ruby Spiegel ’15 and directed by Henry Gottfried ’14, “Dry Land” opened in Iseman Theater on Thursday night as the Dramat’s Spring Experimental Production. Taking place almost entirely in the locker room, “Dry Land” is sparse not only with its set — the play takes place almost entirely in the swimming pool locker room — but also with its characters. Only four ever appear.
The play opens with Ester (Lucy Fleming ’16) socking Amy (Calista Small ’14) in the stomach in the locker room — but she does not seem to do so out of wrath. In fact, the very act of punching Amy is so out of character for Ester, that after a few blows, she refuses to continue. Amy, we discover, is pregnant and desperately wants to get rid of the baby, but cannot get a legal abortion because she is under the age of 18. She skims through the Internet for questionable do-it-yourself abortions, which include swallowing detergent. Blonde, tall and beautiful, Amy is presented as the very image of the “popular girl” with a side of flamboyance and excessive sexuality. Her confidence, though, hides an insecurity that is only hinted at and never fully manifested. Ester, on the other hand, has a subdued but quirky sense of humor; she is shy, but upbeat.
Amy had only turned to Ester because she’s worried her close friend, Reba (Simone Policano ’16) — who is apparently so cool she can kill a deer and post a status about it to Facebook that gets 100 likes — might tell her father. Then the whole world would know about Amy’s baby. At first Amy seems to exploit Ester for her meekness and compliance, reminding her that Reba is a closer friend (and that she gets free cavity fillings from Reba’s dentist dad). And Ester remains loyal to her friend, even as she deals the stress of getting recruited for swimming by Florida State University.
Despite being one of the most disciplined and talented swimmers on the team, Ester is also the most modest. Fleming poignantly portrays how she, who at first appears as a simple and straightforward character, actually holds a more complex darkness beneath her poised and meek façade.
At some parts of the play, it’s easy to feel annoyed at how self-centered and cruel Amy can be to Ester, and she seems always to have an air of superiority. Small’s performance emulates the image of that girl we love to hate, but does so in a way that makes her beautifully human and flawed. When Ester visit FSU, she learns from Victor (Jacob Osborne ’16), a mutual friend of Amy, that Amy is not as confident as she appears to be and has some deep insecurities that trace back to even before high school. You also learn that the father of Amy’s child is now dating a freshman softball player. Amy, meanwhile, is dealing with the both physical and emotional pain of having a do-it-yourself abortion that has been stretched out over the course of 13 weeks.
The animated conversations between Ester and Amy at first seem superficial and entertaining, but they reveal the developing friendship between the two girls. Although they do not realize it at first, they both struggle with letting their guards down. Neither overtly expresses their appreciation for each other, but during the scene in which Amy offers the first genuine gesture of love toward Ester, you kind of feel like choking up.
Laced with punch lines and Mean Girls-esque humor, “Dry Land” is both hilarious and intensely moving. As funny as the characters are, they can also be destructive, insensitive and incredibly human in their vulnerability. Coming out of Iseman, you feel the weight of witnessing Amy’s burden (especially in one gruesome scene), but also gain a renewed sense of appreciation for those friends who supported you in high school.