Erin Shea Brady is a contributing writer and critic at PerformInk and Newcity Stage. Directing credits include: Everybody (Brown Paper Box Co.) and Cabaret, Annapurna (staged reading) and The Rise and Fall of Little Voice (No Stakes Theater Project). Erin has assistant directed and dramaturged productions at the Goodman, Jackalope, TimeLine, A Red Orchid, Northlight, and Remy Bumppo. Erin is a graduate of the directing program at Columbia College Chicago, the internship program at Steppenwolf, Jackalope's inaugural Playwright's Lab, and participated in the Goodman's Criticism in a Changing America bootcamp. Erin is a company member with Brown Paper Box Co. and is currently pursuing her MSW at Loyola.
Jessica Ervin, Bryce Gangel and Charlotte Thomas in DRY LAND. Photo by Michael Brosilow
High school can bring out the worst in us. Hormones are going crazy, everyone is sleep deprived. We’re trying to make our first big independent decisions about what we want our lives to be, while also navigating a newfound sexuality and trying to figure out who we are.
In my life so far, the scariest, most confusing, most complicated moments happened in high school. When we’re young, we don’t always know how to ask for help. We often don’t think we can ask. Sometimes, going through something awful alone seems like an easier alternative than the shame that comes from admitting that we screwed up, that we don’t have all the answers. It’s a formative time in our lives and one that is rarely explored so honestly as in Ruby Rae Spiegel’s expertly crafted play, DRY LAND.
At the start, we meet two young women, Amy and Ester, bravely played with intelligence and nuance by Bryce Gangel and Jessica Ervin. Amy (Gangel) is trying to give herself an abortion in the girls’ locker room and has enlisted help from Ester (Ervin), fellow swimmer and almost-friend.
The combination of Hallie Gordon’s detailed direction, Spiegel’s articulation, and Ervin’s honesty produces an endearing and fully-drawn character in Ester. We know her immediately and we’re with her through the whole play. She is heartwrenchingly vulnerable and real, and in the midst of it all, this girl is funny. The brilliance of this play is in its honesty, and sometimes life is funny when it’s not supposed to be. Gordon’s direction seamlessly leads us through the light and the dark.
The ensemble of young actors is strong. Matt Farabee (Victor) is always great and this play shows off his excellent timing. Charlotte Thomas as Reba is so perfectly that cool, untouchable girl from high school who makes it all look so easy.
The design puts us right where we need to be. We smell the chlorine, we see the lights reflecting off of the pool, we hear the water. Janice Pytel’s costume design is so accurate, it brings the play even closer – we look at the teenagers we know and fear for what they’re going through.
As Gordon says so beautifully in her program note, for all that it’s dark and harrowing, at the core, this is a play about big, important friendship–friendship that makes us feel more alive than we know how to feel. Spiegel has written an extremely important play for girls and women alike.
There’s nothing to pick apart here. I’m grateful to Rivendell for producing this play and for opening up a conversation about The Body Politic with their season. This play begs for education, support and advocacy for young women. I’ve been hoping for a play like this for a long time and I didn’t want it to end.
This play features graphic content that may be a trigger to some audience members.
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