A visceral empathy is thrust upon you when an actress screams five feet away from you in a pool of blood — a mock self-induced abortive labor playing out in sharp painful detail. Each scream rings raw from her mouth to your ears, each tight rustle of clothes and blood-soaked newspapers gives texture and context to a bloody scene without microphones, without a break, without a painless breath.
An intimate theater for an intensely, uncomfortably intimate play, Benchmark Theatre’s small venue allows “Dry Land” to fully engulf you.
“Dry Land” is a production by Ruby Rae Spiegel from 2014 about a teenage girl attempting a self-inflicted abortion in a Florida high school locker room with the help of a friend.
Benchmark has brought Spiegel’s show to its regional premiere in Colorado, at a time when abortion is no longer federally protected. According to Art Director Neil Truglio though, its apt timing was meant to coincide not with the overturning of Roe V. Wade, but with a previous abortion-rights attack: Texas’ abortion bounty law.
“Our goal is to be as immediate as we can be as theater makers at Benchmark, so it just felt like an opportunity to be very immediate and talk about an issue which, at the time, was just the Texas law that passed, the bounty law,” said Truglio. “We didn’t know at the time that we’d be in a sort of post-Roe world by the time we put the show on.”
Benchmark’s season has covered other increasingly current social issues, like Black Lives Matter and the protests after the killing of George Floyd through the play “Elephant,” and “Our American Cousin” about the Jan. 6 capital riots.
The theater’s goal though, he said, is not to tell people what to think, but to spur conversation “in any direction.” The play and theater allows you to “experience their troubles in real-time,” he continued, “putting it front and center.”
The play itself relies not on detailed dialogues on abortion to portray the anxious lack of power front and center that a lack of access to abortion gives, but represents it through the casual separations that keep teenagers from involving themselves in the “adult” world — having no debit card, no car, and no fake ID to pretend to be old enough to participate in that world.
A world where parental permission is needed for a medical abortion, and so teenage desperation turns to gut punches, detergent and alcohol.
But the reality is that these issues are faced by more than teens, and these attempts are not pure fiction.
This play, and actresses that can force this understanding into you, like Aria Summer Wallace playing the pregnant Amy, and Sophie Berger playing the friend Ester, is rooted in reality. People have thrown themselves and been thrown down stairs to resolve this unexpected issue. Stomachs have been punched, alcohol binged, sketchy internet and hand-me-down advice followed, all by real people, in real times and for real motivations.
As Truglio explains when you enter the Benchmark, there is no intermission: there are only 110 minutes of a serious high school friendship melting into grueling pain and anxiety with no break allowed. You will sit, and you will stew in what has been forced upon people of all ages, and what they’ve been forced to do to themselves for decades before, and possibly again.
Performances of "Dry Land" at the Benchmark Theatre — 1560 Teller St. in Lakewood — runs from Sept. 16 to Oct. 8 on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Shows are at 8 p.m. with additional Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.
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