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Preview: TheatreLab's "Dry Land" 

Intimate new play puts women's health issues back into the hands of women.

click to enlarge Aiden Orr and Jessie Kraemer (as Ester) in  TheatreLab's timely production of "Dry Land." - TOM TOPINKA
  • Tom Topinka
  • Aiden Orr and Jessie Kraemer (as Ester) in TheatreLab's timely production of "Dry Land."

On the heels of Trump’s decision to sign a bill that would allow states to defund Planned Parenthood, TheatreLAB’s upcoming production of Ruby Rae Spiegel’s 2014 drama, “Dry Land,” feels right on time.

The play, which centers on two young women in a high school locker room, tackles the serious, current issues of women’s reproductive rights from a decidedly female perspective. This is something the show’s director, Dr. Tawnya Pettiford-Wates, feels is missing from the current political dialogue.

“When you look at a picture from a debate, you don’t see any women in that picture,” she says.

As a part of TheatreLAB’s series, Women at War, “Dry Land” addresses the political via the personal, taking us into the lives of Ester, a competitive swimmer under tremendous pressure, and Amy, a pregnant teen facing down pressures of her own. Written by Spiegel when she was only 21 years old, this play offers a unique perspective in the conversation about abortion by giving voice to two teen girls with nowhere else to turn.

Jessie Kraemer, who portrays Ester in this production, says that she was drawn to the script because of the realism of these characters and their situations.

“It’s fun to play real people,” she says. “That’s a nice thing about the show ... So often, women are these secondary characters. They’re caregivers, they’re mothers, they’re the love interest. But Ester and Amy are just two thinking, feeling human beings who are flawed and who are struggling together.”

Staged in TheatreLAB’s unique Basement performance space which always places audiences in the middle of the action, Kraemer says the realism of the drama and the intimacy of the performance space make this production feel more like a first-hand encounter than a show.

“The audience is really close,” Kraemer says. “It’s an experience. I feel like this play becomes a memory as you view it.”

Such an intimate production seems apt for a play that centers on issues that are so deeply personal. And the fact that the play takes place inside of a women’s locker room speaks volumes about the problems with the ways in which we deal publicly with profoundly personal issues.

“It’s a space that is particularly designated for women. Men are barred from this space,” Pettiford-Wates says.

Although there are two male characters in the play, they do not weigh in on the circumstances of the two young women or the decisions made about those circumstances. “That is just not the case in our current political system,” Pettiford-Wates adds. “If only they would let women -- just women -- decide this.”

Before staging the production, Kraemer says there were many conversations among the cast about the political relevance and the ways in which these issues have challenged and continue to challenge young women. These discussions are valuable ones that the cast and crew of “Dry Land” hope to encourage with this production.

“The play isn’t didactic,” Kraemer says, “It gets you to engage in the conversation. But I would say that it could be triggering.”

“It’s going to cause a lot of people to be talking, I think,” Pettiford-Wates continues. “That is the goal. We all choose our positions and the rhetoric is very planned and packed. It’s not even a discussion at all. But what the playwright makes us see very well is that there are consequences of the positions we are taking and how we are responsible for those.”

TheatreLAB’s “Dry Land” opens on this Friday, April 21 and runs through May 6 at The Basement. Tickets cost $30. www.theatrelabrva.org

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