Rivendell Theatre Ensemble presents its second show of 2016, the Midwest premiere of Dry Land by Ruby Rae Spiegel. As part of the this year’s season, The Body Politic, Dry Land follows the story of two teenage girls as one of them attempts a DIY abortion. Equal parts humorous and raw, this exploration of a hot-button political issue is both complex and deeply human.
The play opens with a simple but loaded request: “punch me.” These words are spoken by Amy, a pregnant high school student asking the help of fellow swim team member Ester in aborting her baby. The phrase is repeated throughout the play, at times playful, and at times desperately serious. This sets a pattern for the entire show; offbeat humor and sweet moments of friendship between the edgy Amy and the straight-laced Ester weave in and out of serious moments of confession and pain.
Abortion is by no means the only subject at hand—the complex nature of high school girls’ friendship, the pressure for teenagers to succeed, and the ambiguousness of sexuality are all tackled in turn—but Amy’s need to end her pregnancy without access to money or understanding parents is the driving force behind the events of the play, and it opens the door to universal questions about our cultural treatment of women’s bodies.
Actors Bryce Gangel and Jessica Ervin, who play Amy and Ester, respectively, are both powerhouse actors who bring the highest level of humanity and truth to their characters. While other members of the ensemble, including Matt Farabee (who plays a hilariously realistic college sophomore) and Charlotte Thomas (who brings a relatability to popular girl Reba) are also strong, these two women do the majority of the heavy lifting, acting-wise, and push themselves to intense extremes both emotionally and physically.
The design work on this show is also remarkable. Joanna Iwanicka’s set design manages to create dynamic and distinct areas onstage in spite of the small space, and the high school locker room setting is detailed and accurate. Lighting by Charles Cooper provides a nice subtlety in design decisions despite the limited locations, and costumes by Janice Pytel add the perfect touches of realism.
Probably the most powerful moment of the show takes place late in the story, as a janitor, played with quiet nuance by Ric Walker, silently cleans the locker room. The writing, acting, and design of the entire show is balanced, powerful, and breathtaking. This production is hands-down the best thing I’ve seen Rivendell produce, and I cannot recommend it strongly enough. Dry Land does what good theatre does; it leaves its audience thinking about what they’ve seen and, in some small way, changed.
Dates: April 29 – May 28, 2016
Schedule: Thursdays-Saturdays at 8:00pm; Saturdays at 4:00pm
Town Hall Discussions willfollow the Saturday matinees on May 7, 14 and 21
Location: Rivendell Theatre Ensemble,5779 N. Ridge Avenue in Chicago
Tickets: General Admission -Pre-sale: $32, Walk-up: $35
Student, Senior, Active Military, Veteran - Pre-sale: $22, Walk-up: $25
Pay What You Can: Five seats (10% of the house) are available for each performance. Reservations are made on a first come first served basis.
Flex Pass: $110 ($80 for Student/ Senior/ Active Military/ Veteran) Includes four tickets to use in any combination for the season.
Box Office: (773) 334-7728 or the Rivendell website.