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‘Dry Land’ Makes a Splash

at The Echo Theater Company

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Dry Land by Ruby Rae Spiegel drew its inspiration from a 2012 article in The New Republic concerning the assault on the reproductive rights of women in America and the lengths some found themselves forced to go through when faced with an unwanted pregnancy.

In the intervening years, that assault has only increased in its intensity, but Dry Land is more than a tirade about the efforts to limit a woman’s control of her own body, it is a slice of life cut with the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel and held unflinchingly beneath the collective microscope of its audience.

Amy (Teagan Rose) is the popular blonde “in” with the most “in-est” of her Florida high school’s crowds.

Ester (Connor Kelly-Eiding) is a recent transfer to the school. Awkward and gangly on dry land, she finds her gracefulness in the pool of the high school swim team.

She and Amy share no common ground, but they do share the water.

The play, more than anything else, is an examination of the unlikely friendship that develops between these two girls, and how that friendship ushers them onto the path of womanhood.

It is the mark of a true friend, of a true friendship, that the relationship leaves us a better person than the one we were when entering it.

It is her capturing this experience so beautifully that Spiegel validates herself as a playwright.

Jenny Soo, Teagan Rose-Echo Theatre-Photo-Darrett Sanders

Jenny Soo and Teagan Rose (Photo by Darrett Sanders)

The piece is not outwardly ambitious. There are no helicopters on stage, no elaborate musical numbers, no poetically worded soliloquies, no side aching belly laughs.

But there is a sincerity in the writing that shimmers like burnished gold. And while there’s nothing contained in the piece’s unfolding events which, in and of themselves, roar spectacular, from Spiegel’s understated commitment to the truths of both her situations and characters, there emerges a whisper that is deafening.

Dry Land makes demands that few theatres and even fewer actors would be able to meet, but in the partnership with the Echo Theater Company, Spiegel’s work finds a kind of perfection.

Producers Chris Fields, Alexandra Freeman, associate producer Nadia Marina Thomas and director Alana Dietze have obviously realized that Dry Land is soft in certain elements of theatricality, and rather than seek to inflate these into the work, they have chosen, and wisely so, to approach them, not as assumed “weaknesses,” but as unappreciated “strengths.”

Dry Land, therefore, fosters a relentless realism.

Amanda Knehans is a scenic designer of growing distinction in L.A., and on past occasions her efforts have provided some staging with the sole saving grace.%

Here however her talent contributes and contributes mightily.

Set in the locker room of the school’s pool, I must assume it was just a trick of the mind brought about by Knehans’ spot on duplication of that specific environment that accounts for the stench of gym fug I thought I caught as I took my seat.

Unless of course there were actually damp old towels piled up back stage.

And frankly, I wouldn’t put such a ploy beyond director Dietze.

Dietze, who made the most impressive directorial debut with last year’s A Small Fire by Adam Bock that I’ve ever beheld, shows that her success cannot be chalked up to beginner’s luck.

Dietze may be in possession of a director’s greatest tool – a sure eye for applying the right actor to the right role. This was certainly apparent in A Small Fire and is true again in Dry Land where she demonstrates a staggering artistry in joining difficult material with talented actors as a means to express with unerringly eloquence, the works’ humanity.

Connor Kelly Eiding, Ben Horwitz-Photo-Darrett Sanders

Connor Kelly Eiding and Ben Horwitz (Photo by Darrett Sanders)

The lesser roles of Reba (Jenny Soo) and Victor (Ben Horwitz), as written, seem to exist solely to function as milestones allowing us to judge how far the characters of Amy and Ester have or have not progressed. Nevertheless, they are well crafted personas, allowing both Soo and Horwitz to make their moments memorable by the merits of their adroitness in the bringing of genuine “breath” to their performances.

The lesser “lesser” roles of two swim team members ¬, and the school janitor (Daniel Hagen in a moving execution of mopping a floor), again, seem to serve little dramatic purpose within the writing, but are exploited by Dietze in maintaining the tight wrapping of reality she’s encased the work in.

But the success of the evening and of the production must ultimately fall to Rose and Kelly-Eiding, and their performances are as close to flawless as one can conceive.

This is not a robust play, by which I mean, not a play that could tolerate any appreciable degree of mishandling. It has the complexity and fragileness of a chamber music piece, where even a single wrong note would be devastating; fortunately for Spiegel and the audience, Dietze, Kelly-Eiding, Rose, Soo, Horwitz and even Mr. Hagen all play at a consummate level.

The title Dry Land can denote barrenness, but in the final moments of this work Dietze, Rose and Kelly-Eiding share in bringing, what is perhaps Spiegel’s intention for the piece, to crystal clarity, that in life, as in the waters of a pool, we cannot fully appreciate someone, until we look beneath the surface.

This is one play you should definitely dive into.

* * *

% Yeah, I’m pointing at you Café Society!
¬ These two roles are shared by a roster of thirteen company members including Freeman and Marina of the producing trio. Apparently we will not be seeing Fields on stage in a one piece. (Thank you, Alana.)

* * *

WHAT: Dry Land — Presented by The Echo Theater Company

Written by Ruby Rae Spiegel / Directed by Alana Dietze

WHEN: now thru May 15 (see dates and times below)

• Fridays at 8 p.m.: April 8 (preview), 15, 22, 29; May 6, 13
• Saturdays at 8 p.m.: April 9 (opening night), 16, 23, 30; May 7, 14
• Sundays at 4 p.m.: April 10, 17, 24; May 1, 8, 15
• Sundays at 7 p.m.: April 10, 17, 24; May 1, 8, 15

WHERE: Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90039
(FREE parking in the Atwater Xing lot one block south of the theater.)

For Tickets and Additional Information:

Call 310-307-3753
or go to
www.EchoTheaterCompany.com

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Written by

An award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note who has hoisted glasses with Orson Welles, been arrested on three continents and once beat up Charlie Manson. His first play, Among the Vipers was a semi-finalist in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition and was featured in the Carnegie-Mellon Showcase of New Plays. It was produced at the NPT Theater in Ashland, Oregon and Los Angeles’ celebrated Odyssey Ensemble Theatre. His following play, “The Little Boy Who Loved Monsters” was produced at The Hollywood Actors Theater, where he earned praise from the Los Angeles Times for his “…inordinately creative writing.” The play went on to numerous other productions including Berlin’s The Black Theatre under the direction of Rainer Fassbinder who wrote in his program notes of Kearney, “He is a skilled playwright, but more importantly he is a dangerous one.” Ernest Kearney has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for among others The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist three times in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His work has been performed by Michael Dunn, Sandra Tsing Loh, Jack Colvin and Billy Bob Thornton, and to date, either as playwright or director, he has upwards of a hundred and thirty productions under his belt, including a few at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater as puppeteer. After a wild and misspent youth, which lasted well into middle age, Kearney has settled down and is focusing on his writing, as well as living happily ever after with his lovely wife Marlene. Ernest's stage reviews and social essays can be found at TheTVolution.com and workingauthor.com. Follow him on Facebook.

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