Playwright Ruby Rae Spiegel’s “Dry Land,” presented by the Echo Theater Company at the Atwater Village Theatre, confronts the effect of unwanted pregnancy on a tough but terrified teenage girl.
We can almost smell the chlorine wafting off the tile floor of Amanda Knehans’ locker room set, where a girls high school swim team prepares for practice. It’s here that newly pregnant Amy (Teagan Rose) summons her teammate, shy star swimmer Ester (Connor Kelly-Eiding), on a grim errand -- to punch her repeatedly in the stomach until she aborts, a painful fool’s errand.
A popular mean girl with a reputation as a “slut,” Amy exploits Ester’s loneliness to her own ends. But the girls’ odd new friendship is severely tested when Amy publicly accuses the latently lesbian Ester of being in love with her.
Spiegel’s slyly political play obliquely addresses the dwindling access to abortion in certain states, but that’s not really the point of her disturbing and gripping drama, which is not for the faint of heart.
Dramaturgically, this “Land” is not terra firma. A character is introduced for purely expositional purposes, while Spiegel’s intriguingly desultory dialogue sometimes skews into the sophomoric. Also, the other girls on the swim team who appear, wordlessly, in the final scene should have been more fully incorporated into the action -- or not at all. To cite specifics would be a spoiler, but a scene involving a school janitor isn’t based in any kind of reality that we can understand.
Despite the occasional blunder, director Alana Dietze’s taut and harrowing staging doesn’t pull punches. Rose and Kelly-Eiding are precociously strong in their challenging roles. The sheer psychic clout of Spiegel’s visceral play should not be underestimated. You may flinch -- but you will be unable to look away.
“Dry Land,” Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 4 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends May 15. $25. (310) 307-3753. www.EchoTheaterCompany.com. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.