Two young girls sit in a locker room. They are scared and unsure. One girl tells the other to punch her in the stomach — maybe that will suffice to abort the fetus growing inside of her.
This week, Basement Arts presents Ruby Rae Spiegel’s “Dry Land,” in Studio One at the Walgreen Drama Center. “Dry Land” tells the story of an unlikely friendship that forms in the face of a conflict in which both girls have to keep a secret.
Amy, a popular teenager with a strong personality, confides in Ester, an intense athlete and introvert, who offers Amy the counsel and support that she cannot find anywhere else.
“The whole play except for one scene takes place in the locker room of a girls’ swim team,” said Delaney Moro, Music, Theatre and Dance Senior, and director of the show. “It follows the story of these two girls named Amy and Ester, who become unlikely friends, basically because Amy is in a predicament that only someone like Ester can help her with — which is that Amy is pregnant.”
The girls go on this journey together, supporting one another through a conflict that they refuse to tell their classmates or parents about. After having read through the script many times, the cast has brought plenty of delightful surprises to the process of developing these characters.
“For Ester, the character has surprised me in a lot of ways. I think initially when I read her, I didn’t give her enough credit. I thought of her as a very naïve girl, who is just this athlete with no friends,” Moro said.
Carly Snyder, Music, Theatre and Dance senior, plays Ester. She presents an entirely new version of her character, one that further illuminates the brilliance of this play and offers depth to the character as she helps her friend through an extremely difficult situation.
“When Carly came in, she brought this sweetness to her and also brought an intelligence that really came alive in the room,” Moro said.
Amy, played by Kay Kelley, Music, Theatre and Dance senior, is the figure who is battling the most intense conflict in this piece, but is hesitant to turn to anyone for help.
“Kay can take a character like Amy, who has this tough outer shell, but also show she is extremely vulnerable on the inside and susceptible with all the basic human emotions that we can come to terms with,” Moro said. “Especially when we are going through something traumatic, like hiding a pregnancy.”
The dynamic between both actors has added extra reward to this piece, as both Kelley and Snyder build off each other in beautiful ways.
“When I put them together, they just fed off of each other so well, their natural banter with the dialogue is something that you can only dream of when you have three weeks to put it together,” Moro said.
Though abortion is a politically sensitive topic, Moro says the politics of the issue do not overshadow the performance.
“I don’t think I would call it a political play,” Moro said. “What I think it does so well is it presents this issue and it allows the audience to think for themselves about it. It doesn’t have a spin, it doesn’t have an idea about abortions that says: ‘Okay this is what we think, what do you think?’ You can decide for yourself.”
The cast has engaged in multiple discussions about the pro-life and pro-choice debate, and they have realized that even with differing views, there are different ways to communicate ideas to an audience without forcing them to sway to one side of the spectrum.
“I think after talking to the cast and really sitting with the piece for a while, I didn’t want to put just one commentary on the issue. Because I don’t think that really solves anything,” Moro explained. “We live in Ann Arbor, which is a bubble of people who are very likeminded, but that takes us away from the entire country, which is something I think we saw in November.”
“Dry Land” explores the importance of assistance and safe abortion care when it’s needed. Amy and Ester are so terrified to tell anyone that they go about the process in a highly unsafe way.
According to Moro, that is just one side of the issue.
“Another way to look at it — there’s a life. There is something in there … she (Amy) describes it as the size of a lemon. It’s shocking, when you actually look at it,” Moro said.
This play is constantly evolving, as the cast discovers further truths about friendship, hardship and who to turn to in the midst of such events.
Supportive of the project, the cast is grateful that they could bring a piece like this to the Ann Arbor community, and they continue to dive into the reality of the situations proposed in the show.
“As we have gone along, every time we read a scene, we discover something new about the script,” Moro said. “That’s the joy of being an actor, you dig and you find stuff to keep it alive and surprise you.”