Using the same theater space where Trinity Rep began more than 50 years ago, The Wilbury Group is another young theater willing to take a chance. Bill Gale says their latest work, “Dry Land,” is certainly risky.
Ah, yes, so it is. Written by Ruby Rae Spiegel when she was still an undergraduate at Yale University, “Dry Land” rushes you into a vortex of, well, you could say a bunch of kids being young and stupid.
Here's the deal. We look into a locker room as a band of high school girls romps in. They're on the swim team. In one piece bathing suits, they are glittery, goofy, raunchy in their language, youthful in their thoughts. Their remarks are spoken so fast that sometimes you can't make out what they're saying. Just as well, actually.
But playwright Spiegel quickly cuts to the center of attention. That's Amy, who seems to be a leader of the bunch. She's voracious in her comments, tough in her beliefs and, sometimes, a nasty leader. Her good friend, if that's the term, is Ester, a helpful kid, quite unsure, but likeable.
Oh, yes. Ester also spends most of her time punching Amy in the stomach, literally. Hits her hard enough, often enough, to have a sore wrist. You can imagine what Amy's belly feels like.
Now I'm not going to go into too many details here. Amy, you see, is pregnant. And scared to death about it.
“Dry Land” – the title refers to a safe place – goes on to tell us of all the absurd, not to mention, dangerous efforts that Amy, with Ester's help, takes on to end her pregnancy, release herself from what she calls, not the “baby,” but “it” as in “Throw it away.”
Despite the seriousness of the situation, “Dry Land” all too often spends way too much time with silliness. Again and again, it is filled with incessant teen turmoil. I want to be a writer, you know like Herman Melville, one girl says. Another just shows up with a major size bottle of vodka and taking shots begins.
Much of this prattle detracts from the main point of “Dry Land.” Playwright Spiegel wants to tell us tales of how confusing being a teen can be. She tells us that Amy is really quite a mess despite all her vibrato. She wants us to have some care for a young person who many would simply put aside as a sexually active troublemaker.
At the Wilbury, director Josh Short has moved all this as quickly as possible. There's a nice useful set by Monica Shinn and atmospheric lighting by Gerritt Turner. As Amy, Andrea Reid is strong in displaying all of Amy's weakness. Julia Bartoletti gives Ester a sympathetic drive. And Patrick Saunders is a hoot as the most flighty teenage boy you've ever seen.
For all its problems, amid all its silliness, “Dry Land” has a point to make. It makes that most powerfully in a sad and bloody ending. This is not a crowd-pleasing work.
But it is one that makes you look forward to seeing what playwright Spiegel may have to say in the future.
“Dry Land” continues at the Wilbury Group in Providence through October 3rd. Bill Gale reviews the performing arts for Rhode Island Public Radio