Dry Land successfully balances high drama and dark humour

DRY LAND by Ruby Rae Spiegel (Cue6 Theatre). At the Assembly Theatre (1479 Queen West). Runs to September 22. See.


DRY LAND by Ruby Rae Spiegel (Cue6 Theatre). At the Assembly Theatre (1479 Queen West). Runs to September 22. See listing. Rating: NNNN

Cue6s Toronto premiere of Ruby Rae Spiegels critically acclaimed Dry Land balances high drama and dark humour with simplicity and sophistication.

The story revolves around Amy (Veronica Hortiguela) and Ester (Mattie Driscoll), swim teammates at a high school somewhere in Florida. Ester is warm but self-conscious, playing up to Amy, the gregarious and cooler of the two. It quickly becomes apparent that Amy has enlisted Ester as her secret ally: shes pregnant, and doesnt want to be.

Driscolls depiction of Esters awkward timidity is endearing and funny, and her feeble attempts to punch Amys stomach (at Amys command) capture both her loyalty and her misgivings about Amys condition.

Hortiguelas performance matches Driscolls as she balances Amys violent desire to appear unflappable with her opposing need for real friendship.

You might think that this play is important because it is about abortion a polarizing topic oversimplified in politics and avoided by Hollywood. Yet Amys abortion is really just one result of how gender and sexuality are framed and oppressed by narrow social forces: Amy uses sex as a shield from vulnerability and shame, and Ester is terrified of Amy realizing shes gay, and rejecting her friendship as a result.

Combine these stifling social norms with a financially prohibitive health care system, and we get Amy suffering through an induced abortion well into her second trimester on the floor of a girls locker room. (Aside: given the number of people who have experienced abortion and miscarriage, this deserves a content warning.)

The climax is powerful because it reveals Amy at her most abject, and director Jill Harper has managed to depict its grotesqueness with sensitivity, but ultimately the play leans on this highly dramatic climax without providing enough motivation. Why, for example, is this excruciating outcome preferable to soliciting her parents help?

In early scenes Amy postures by bragging and telling racist jokes, but we dont get any sense of why she keeps others at a distance, what experiences brought her to this point. Spiegels story contains a lot of witty banter and dramatic scenes, but the climax would have more impact if the audience didnt have to fill in these gaps.

Elahe Marjovi keeps the set simple with one bench against two walls of lockers, and details like the way the actors don their caps swim-team-style sharpen the story. However, I was frustrated by Harpers direction of the final scene, in which Amy faces away from the audience, obscuring her reaction at the emotional culmination of the story.

Overall, Cue6 delivers a grounded, mature production of a highly dramatic play that would benefit from more detailed exploration of its protagonists.

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