“How do you defend yourself? Is it what you say or how you say it?” — ACTUALLY, by Anna Ziegler
In two major dramas on two Westside stages, a group of contemporary American girls—17, 18, 19 years old—navigate a minefield of casual sadism and, even worse, insidious apathy, mostly at the hands of their peers.
In Ruby Rae Spiegel’s brutal, brilliant DRY LAND—an Echo Theater production at the Kirk Douglas, directed by Alana Dietze—high-school swimmer Ester (Connor Kelly-Eiding) is so desperate for love and friendship that when her pregnant teammate Amy (Teagan Rose) orders her to repeatedly punch her in the stomach to induce an miscarriage, Ester willingly obliges. Amy—strong, magnetic, self-destructive, and deeply ashamed of her own intelligence—finds her strength by being her worst self, and beneath her confident mask lies a deep well of shame.
“My mom told me I was ‘pretty enough.’ Which probably 100% of shrinks would say explains everything.” — ACTUALLY
Anna Ziegler’s ACTUALLY (directed by Tyne Rafaeli at the Geffen Playhouse) draws on the same theme: the outwardly impressive versus the earnestly impressed.
Princeton freshman Tom (Jerry MacKinnon) is hot, African–American, loves Mozart, and is a self-proclaimed player (all plot points). His classmate Amber (Samantha Ressler) is Jewish, analytical, and a bit of a “mouse” (also plot points). They meet, talk, and go on ice cream dates, but once they partake in their university’s party culture, a disastrous night is quickly followed by Tom being called before an adjudicatory panel, charged with rape.
Both parties were drinking to excess on the night in question. In a shattering monologue near the end of the play, Amber makes clear that what hurt most during their night of rough, blackout sex was not the physical pain she was feeling, but the fact that her partner— unhearing, unseeing, yet right on top of her—had vanished.
DRY LAND, the third in a series of three Block Party plays, through May 21.
KIRK DOUGLAS THEATRE, 9820 Washington Boulevard, Culver City.
ACTUALLY, through June 11.
AUDREY SKIRBALL KENIS THEATER at the GEFFEN PLAYHOUSE, 10886 Le Conte Avenue, Westwood.