It’s difficult to say which was more uncomfortable in the Rumble Theatre production of Dry Land, the subject matter, or the venue’s stifling heat.
Currently playing as part of the 2016 Tremors Festival, Dry Land is the story of Amy, a popular high school junior who discovers she is pregnant. Set in Florida, where access to abortions and the morning after pill are restricted, Amy turns to an unlikely ally, the awkward Ester. Together the two look to induce an abortion from methods gathered online.
While Dry Land does attempt to touch on other issues, including bullying, eating disorders, and sexuality, it is difficult not to get completely caught up in the abortion story given the graphic nature in which playwright Ruby Rae Spiegel deals with it.
Not for the faint-of-heart, Anais West gives a fearless performance, the likes of which you will probably never see on stage again. While visually powerful, by the time Amy reaches this turning point, we should feel her pain. But that is near impossible given the distractedly hot (and noisy) venue.
And therein lies the biggest disappointment. While West and the rest of this capable cast – Shauna Griffin, Chris Lam and Elizabeth Willow – are performing this difficult material, it is impossible to fully engage. One can’t help but think that it would be an entirely different experience if one wasn’t fighting the urge to flee the heat. That this production by some of Vancouver’s emerging talent is let down by a lack of air conditioning and sound proofing is frustrating.
It also didn’t help that under the direction of Laura McLean, sight lines in the makeshift theatre at the Italian Cultural Centre are sometimes problematic. Not only did my theatre companion miss much of what made West’s performance so memorable, another scene in which Ester engages with a male student was almost entirely lost on me.
There is a cinematic quality to Spiegel’s writing that McLean attempts to take advantage with a few background players in Dry Land’s final moments, but they feel as unnecessary as the play’s epilogue. Beyond Amy’s onstage abortion, it was the janitor cleaning up the mess afterwards that resonated far greater than the playwright’s attempt to show an ultimate connection between Amy and Ester.
Dry Land by Ruby Rae Spiegel. Directed by Laura McLean. A Rumble Theatre production. Playing as part of the 2016 Tremors Festival at the Italian Cultural Centre (3075 Slocan St, Vancouver) until August 20. Visit http://rumble.org for tickets and information.