With the right to choose under fire nationwide, a play featuring a 17-year-old grappling with an unwanted pregnancy couldn’t be timelier. Ruby Rae Spiegel’s Dry Land, directed by Alana Dietz for the Echo Theater Company, fits that description.
The high point is a riveting scene in which Amy (Teagan Rose), the pregnant teen, writhes in pain on a locker room floor, then begins to bleed profusely as the abortion pill she’s swallowed takes effect. The scene goes on for a long time, so gripping that it’s impossible to look away.
A second notable sequence takes place between Ester (Connor Kelly-Eiding), Amy’s teammate and the sole person present to help her through her ordeal, and Victor (Ben Horwitz), a shy, awkward college freshman who’s offered to let Ester crash in his dorm room on the night prior to her tryout for the university swim team. Almost a stand-alone play by itself, the sequence is a bittersweet depiction of two insecure young people, one of whom reaches out to help the other with whatever resources — material and other — he has available.
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This interchange, however, is a detour; the plot’s main focus — its spine, really — is the friendship between the sardonic, sassy and sometimes intentionally cruel Amy, now in straits, and the reserved, considerably less vivacious Ester, possessor of an ethical backbone that sets her apart from her peers. For Ester, Amy’s a special friend; whenever she asks for something, Ester complies. (This involves punching Amy in the stomach repeatedly and on-demand; it’s her initial game plan for terminating the pregnancy.)
Onstage on opening night, however, the relationship, with its power games, awkward secrets and hints of sexual attraction, was still a work in progress. As the reactive "friend" (and the target of Amy’s careless slurs), Kelly-Eiding is solid. Rose, though she exudes mountains of edgy energy in a difficult role, delivers a patchwork of vivid mannerisms that hasn’t quite cohered into a character portrayal of depth and power. (She still gets kudos for her bold and graphic performance in the abortion scene.) I also had issues with the open in-the-round staging as distracting from the intimacy of many moments.
Still, there's no denying the relevance of this piece, which lays out the predicament of millions of trapped, bewildered women.
Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Atwater Village; through May 15. echotheatercompany.com.