Dry Land

March 1, 2024 by Alex First
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A Melbourne theatre review by Alex First

Cassidy Dunn and Luce Wirthensohn are the key players in Dry Land.

Dry Land has much to say about abortion, female friendships and being a teenager, but it takes a long time to say it.

It is the brainchild of American playwright Ruby Rae Spiegel.

In 2014, Dry Land – her first full-length play – premiered Off-Broadway.

Spiegel was 21 years old and still a playwriting student at Yale University at the time.

That was a remarkable achievement.

So, to the storyline:

We are in Florida and former cheerleader Amy (Luce Wirthensohn) is now a member of the high school swim team.

Known to sleep around, she finds herself pregnant.

She can’t bring herself to tell her mother and doesn’t want the baby, so she looks for a way out.

At the start of the play, she asks another member of the swim team, the good natured but awkward Ester (Cassidy Dunn) to continually punch her in the stomach.

As much as Ester seems to want the forge a friendship, Amy appears to take advantage of her. For Amy, Ester seems to be more of a convenience.

Interestingly, Amy’s so-called best friend, fellow swimmer, and similarly self-absorbed Reba (Isabelle Duggan) is surprisingly scarce.

When the three girls do get together, there is a major flare-up between Amy and Ester, instigated by the former.

Meanwhile, Ester’s major focus is being granted a university swimming scholarship.

She, too, has her insecurities and secrets.

There is much to appreciate about Dry Land, but I found the first 45 minutes dragged.

I understand the playwright had to establish the dynamic between Amy and Ester, but prudent pruning would have been desirable.

Cassidy Dunn is impressive in a difficult role, which requires her to be vulnerable and then to draw a line in the sand.

She brings emotional depth to her portrayal of Ester.

A tough exterior gives way to naked fear as Luce Wirthensohn steps up as Amy.

Isabelle Duggan brings entitlement to Reba, while as Ester’s mother’s friend’s son Victor, Enrico Botha plays out a memorable, self-conscious courting ritual with Ester.

The other cast member is Buzz Billman, who plays the janitor that walks in on Amy and Ester at the start of the production’s most distressing scene.

That happens late in the piece and, make no mistake, it is confronting.

Most of the action takes place in the girls’ change room at school, which is readily established by set and costume designer Abbey Stanway.

All it requires is a couple of wooden bench seats and a couple of rows of lockers, yet it is evocative.

Unwanted teenage pregnancies are nothing new and female friendships can be fraught. Combine the two and they can be incendiary.

That is exactly what Ruby Rae Spiegel has unpacked.

Ninety minutes without interval, Dry Land – directed by Olivia Staaf – is playing at Theatre Works’ Explosives Factory until 9th March, 2024.

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