Shotgun’s ‘Dry Land’ addresses the ‘fragile and formative’ teen years

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Amy (Martha Brigham, left) confides in Ester (Grace Ng) in Ruby Rae Spiegel’s “Dry Land,” running through June 17th in Berkeley. (Ben Krantz Studio photo)

With today’s generation of teenagers more connected than ever in the form of social media, the pressures to live up to a fabricated online ideal can be thoroughly treacherous. Specifically, teen girls by nature go through a constant process of selecting and deselecting friends, searching for meaningful connections to help navigate those moments of self-discovery and awakening.

For Amy and Ester, members of their school’s swim team, their bond is strengthened by their discussion of homemade abortion alternatives. Amy is pregnant by an ex-boyfriend, and Ester is a talented swimmer without friends, so the pair make for kindred souls.

“Dry Land,” is an intense and powerful play that received a five-star review from the New York Times in its world premiere back in 2014. The playwright, Ruby Rae Spiegel was 21-years-old when she wrote the play, which was praised for its searing honesty about the challenge of high school years.

Berkeley’s Shotgun Players is now running the piece through June 17th. It’s a play that was on the radar for Berkeley native and the show’s director Ariel Craft, who knew all about that Times review which was penned by lead critic Ben Brantley. And while Craft waited for a Bay Area production of the show, it never came, opening the door for Shotgun to claim that premiere.

As a 29-year-old woman, Craft is not so far removed from those anxious teen years to remember what they were like, and for her, the power of the play is how specific it is to those years, but universal in its approach.

“The show is about actively listening, and the way they interact feels very foreign and specific to their generation,” said Craft. “Young womanhood and teen years are such a fragile and formative time, and teen stories are really rife with themes of identity and finding a place where you like yourself. The play feels especially specific to young people but can extrapolate to everyone.”

Another powerful aspect of the show is the discussion of reproductive rights. At a time where funding is threatened at clinics who even mention abortion, the play addresses how that stigma can lead to dangerous consequences.

“Certainly as we talk about reproductive rights, there is a stigmatization and a lack of access for young people about their own reproductive health,” said Craft.

The play takes great pains to get details correctly, even performing an on-stage abortion. Craft and her creative team took great pains to be as accurate as possible, even having an abortion doula as part of the show’s consulting. But for Craft, one of the most powerful aspects of this production is that the show is not about abortion or reproductive rights; It’s about friendship and how bonds are formed in the midst of an incredibly awkward and difficult time for so many young women.

“The show never really talks about what’s right or wrong, and the character doesn’t contend with the morality of abortion,” said Craft. “The abortion is contextual rather than the central conflict, and for me I like to see that. It does so by focusing on two young women and their specific situation and specific circumstances.”

One of Shotgun’s core values with any of their productions, according to Craft, is to open empathetic channels to their patrons. Many stories they tell may have a universal message, while others may be distinctly female. And while this play may be more of the latter, it certainly does not mean it is only targeted to the demographic featured in the show.

“I think it’s important for those who are not young women to see it,” said Craft. “It may speak to the young female experience, but it’s not just for young women, but for all different ages and genders.”

WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO

Shotgun Players presents “Dry Land”
Written by Ruby Rae Spiegel
Directed by Ariel Craft
The Ashby Stage
1901 Ashby Avenue, Berkeley, CA
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission
Through June 17th
Tickets range from $25 – $42
For tickets, call (510) 841-6500 ext. 303 or visit the Shotgun Players website.

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