Martha Brigham, as Amy, and Grace Ng, as Ester, in Dry Land by the Shotgun Players. Photo: Ben Krantz Studio

Two teenaged girls on a Florida high-school swim team navigate the precarious path to female adulthood and friendship in Ruby Rae Spiegel’s honest, meaningful and intense 90-minute drama, Dry Land. It premiered in New York City when Spiegel was only 21 years old, and the author captures fully the emotional tumult and turmoil of girls too soon reaching womanhood. The two main characters are wholly natural, convincing and complete, from their psychological issues to their speech, body language as well as their interactions with each other. We immediately care about what happens to Amy and Ester.

Mostly set in the girls’ locker room, the play’s very first words tell us that discontented and superficially tough Amy (excellent Martha Brigham) is pregnant and clearly doesn’t want to be. “Punch me,” she says to Ester (first-rate Grace Ng), a shy newcomer on land, but a super-competitive swimmer in the water.

Amy is pregnant by a boy she no longer dates, and who does not appear as a character in the drama. Florida law mandates parental notification for an abortion, and since Amy doesn’t want her mother to know about her situation, she seeks help from the internet, entreating lonely Ester’s cooperation with her schemes — from being punched in the belly to using laundry detergent, to taking the abortion pill. A word of warning, there is one scene that is disturbing and bloody. Just be prepared for it and admire the exquisite acting under the skillful direction of Ariel Craft.

It is unlikely that the two swimmers would have been friends absent Amy’s condition, yet, over the course of the play, they grow close, giggle together and exchange secrets, although they maintain a slight wariness with each other. When a third swimmer, titularly Amy’s best friend, Reba (Amy Nowak makes the most of her smaller role), enters the locker room, the dynamics among the girls change radically.

With greater realism than most fictionalized accounts of teenaged pregnancies, Dry Land is not a political exposé, nor does it state a position on unwanted pregnancies. However, Amy’s dire predicament will resonant with every woman who has found herself in a similar situation. She sees her dreams — she wants to leave Florida and become a writer — slipping out of her control. And by the end of the one-act play, Amy’s braggadocio has disappeared and she is left to confront her anxiety about the future alone.

When I read about the subject matter of Dry Land, I confess that I was ambivalent about seeing it, but I’m glad that I did. With an emotionally impactful script, fine acting and direction, Dry Land is significant and memorable.

Dry Land is playing at the Ashby Stage through June 17. Audience members are invited to participate in talkback discussions immediately following each performance. Regular tickets: $25–$42. Advance reservations strongly advised. For information, extended dates and tickets, visit Shotgun Players online.

Emily S. Mendel reviews Berkeley’s vibrant theater scene for Berkeleyside. As a native New Yorker (although an East Bay resident for most of her life), Emily grew up loving and studying theater, from...