by Lauren Silverman Durban
In the opening scene of Dry Land, the Theatrix-produced play that opened Thursday night at UNL, reserved high school student Ester is repeatedly punching her friend Amy in the stomach. It is, by turns, confusing, funny, and uncomfortable. Amy is urging her on, and Esther, quietly reveling in the attention from the more popular girl, obliges. By the time we realize that they are attempting a DIY abortion, it’s clear that the play will be, to use the swimming analogies that recur throughout, going in deep.
Led by standout performances from Michaella Deladia as Amy and Kami Cooper as Ester, Dry Land takes an unflinching look at the lives of two very different high school students struggling to deal with their current crisis while also navigating the ever-changing landscape of high school emotions and relationships. They experiment with sex, try on varying versions of themselves, make attempts at humor that often come out more cruel than funny. Amy has a hardened exterior, and even in her present crisis attempts to control every situation. Ester has demons of her own, but hides them beneath a quick smile and subservient nature. They form an uneasy bond that drives the action to its heartbreaking conclusion. Nothing is ever simple or clear between them.
Photo credit to Maya Linn Peirce
The vast majority of the action takes place in a high school locker room before and after swim practices. Between scenes, blackouts are punctuated by the sound of being underwater, at a volume that could be felt as much as heard. As a former competitive swimmer, it was a series of sounds I recognized immediately– the rushing water, voices you hear but can’t quite understand, all coming together to create an often overwhelming effect. It’s a visceral experience that also sounds something like, appropriately enough, the rushing noises of an ultrasound. It creates a constant sense of drowning and surfacing, even as Amy and Ester do the same.
Emma Parizek as Reba and Matthew Blom as Victor provide welcome comic relief. Even amid the heavy subject matter, Dry Land provides more than a few laugh-out-loud moments– many coming from Blom, a delightful scene-stealer as an awkward student hosting Ester during a college visit. And the lighter moments are, indeed, welcome, coming before an intense, heartbreaking scene toward the end of the show that left a few audience members audibly sobbing. Deladia in particular deserves commendation for her stunning commitment to a scene that is admittedly hard to watch. Audience members should know going in that things are going to get very real, and very intense.
Due to subject matter and language, Dry Land is definitely a show for adults. Director Kaitlin Triplett has done wonderful work with a difficult play, and never turns away when the material asks for an unflinching eye. In the Director’s Notes, she says “Dry Land is a play about abortion, but it is not an abortion play. It is a human play.” And so it is, asking us to empathize with two girls just beginning to figure out where they fit, grasping at who they can become, struggling to find dry land.
Dry Land continues November 2 and 3 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 4 at 2 p.m. in the Lab Theatre on the third floor of the Temple Building at 1209 R Street in Lincoln. Tickets are $7 online or at the door before the show.
Lauren Silverman Durban is host of ‘JP and Lauren Mornings with Husker Nick’ on KX 96.9. She is a freelance writer, a mother of 4, and can frequently be seen performing on Lincoln stages. If you want to have a really geeky conversation about anything theater, she’s your gal.