This weekend, I had the pleasure of seeing a play that I’ve been looking forward to for a while now. “Dry Land” has been receiving rave reviews for both its run last year in New York and its current run at Company One in Boston under the direction of Steven Bogart. I came in expecting a black comedy about abortion — paradoxical, I know. I came out with a face full of tears, a belly of laughter and even more support for Planned Parenthood than I already had (which I did not believe to be possible). “Dry Land” is the work of 22-year-old playwright Ruby Rae Spiegel, a recent Yale graduate who has been referred to by many as the “Lena Dunham of the theatre world.” Spiegel demonstrates real promise with “Dry Land,” which is beautifully entertaining, poignant and thought-provoking.
One of the play’s most effective elements is the development of the play’s main character, Amy. Spiegel does not cater to certain audiences by depicting Amy as an innocent and lovable high school student in trouble; rather, Amy has quite the mean streak. She does not know how to be a friend or accept friendship from others. Classmates have branded her a “slut,” which she outwardly brags about. At her core, though, Amy is an insecure girl suffering from crippling loneliness — as many are. Spiegel demands sympathy for a girl who could easily be criticized, and who would (more than likely) be told that she “had it coming.”
Although much of the play is filled with casual dialogue and frank humor, tension is a constant undercurrent. The play’s funniest moments (and there are countless!) effectively compliment the dark climax: Amy orders abortion medication online, and in her school locker room, she goes into labor to terminate her 13-week pregnancy. The scene is raw, uncomfortable, powerful and visceral under painfully bright lights — these girls cannot hide. Their bodies feel exposed and even crude, but never for titillation. Inspired by the works of several established visual artists and playwrights, Spiegel uses “hyper-realism and explicit physicality” to incite a guttural audience reaction as the stage’s tile becomes caked in blood.
Along with abortion, “Dry Land” touches on several other complex issues: suicide, depression, sexual fluidity, eating disorders and the nuances of unlikely female friendships. However, none of these feel underdeveloped. Rather, Spiegel includes these various elements to realistically layer her characters; as she states in the program booklet, “Nobody lives a one-issue life.” Company One’s production features the added issue of a racial divide between Amy and her newfound friend Ester, which felt authentic, deliberate and powerful. Company One has a strong mind for social consciousness, community involvement and theatrical diversity. They realize that casting actors of color is indescribably important in adjusting the current climate of theater’s ethnic and racial composition, and they continue to practice this belief with “Dry Land.”
One component that really enhanced my experience of this play was its program booklet, which contains three infographics about abortion access. In just the last four years, states have enacted 231 abortion restrictions, including insurance bans, waiting periods, biased counseling and parental consent requirements (which is the most detrimental, in my opinion). “Dry Land” depicts a sobering and plausible reality: Amy is a teenager unfit to be a mother who is terrified and ashamed to confide in her own parents. Due to parental consent restrictions, Amy endangers herself by asking her friend Ester to punch her and sit on her, and she contemplates drinking laundry detergent, using a wire hanger or purposefully falling down the stairs. Amy finally settles on a medical abortion from untrustworthy online pills. The scary part is: these options exist.
I left this play believing even more firmly in the need for abortion access and comprehensive sex education. That being said, I do understand that abortion is a sensitive topic strongly tied to each person’s individual belief system, and I do not intend to persuade anyone out of those beliefs. I do, however, intend to spread word about this play, and about the emotional and physical dangers of both abortion restrictions and inadequate sexual education. Perhaps greater than anything else is my belief in birth control access — and, as it happens, abortion restrictions and birth control restrictions tend to go hand in hand. This trend is actually completely counterproductive to the pro-life movement, considering the fact that in 2011 abortion rates were at their lowest since 1973, thanks to access to contraceptives.
“Dry Land” is important because it evokes sympathy for a less-likely candidate. It depicts the dangers of seeking an unsafe and/or illegal abortion. And, it brings attention to our country’s dissonance over sex education: we have free condoms, Planned Parenthood centers and access to birth control without parental notice. The resources are out there, and yet so few people are fully educated about them. And even further, we have people who preach abortion restrictions, yet have no means of supporting those unborn children, or of educating our youth on how to prevent those pregnancies while still developing a healthy and open sexuality. Far too many people feel helpless and alone. Far too many people have not been given the education or the options they deserve. Abortion access and comprehensive sex education prevent stories like those in “Dry Land” from happening. For those who support abortion restrictions, “Dry Land” may offer insight into an all-too-familiar young woman’s mind. For those already on board with the pro-choice movement, “Dry Land” will add fuel to your fire and provide an emotionally moving experience from which to draw. Either way, this play is effective and incredibly significant. As a lover of social consciousness and theater, I cannot wait to see what comes next from both Company One and Ruby Rae Spiegel.
“Dry Land” runs through October 30. Student tickets are $15 and can be purchased here.