Imagine a seventy-two year-old Jewish fellow wandering into a girls’ high school locker room. Well not literally, because I did not “literally” wander into a girls’ high school locker room. It was “literally” in the sense that I wandered into a play primarily set in a girls’ high school locker room. Which is as close to “literally” in that context as I would wish to proceed. And even then, let me tell you…
Explaining what I was doing at that play. So you will not think,
EARLO: (RUBBING HIS HANDS TOGETHER) “Girls’ locker room shenanigans. I’m in!”
I was, admittedly, there – circumstantial evidence, in an incriminating direction – but here, exculpatorily, is why.
One day, Dr. M sheepishly informed me that this really nice guy had called the house and had sold her a subscription series to the theater company he was shilling for – four plays in a twelve-month time span. As a result of that moment of weakness, during the next year of my life, I would be attending four plays I’d had effectively no say whatsoever in selecting. To which of course, if you want to stay married, you say, “Fine.” Or “Great!”, if you are the biggest liar in the world. Which it wasn’t. I could barely pull off “Fine.”
Here’s the thing, and if it sounds strange to you, so be it. My personal preference is to pick the plays I will attend myself, a decision determined by whether the play’s subject matter is of interest to me and whether it had been positively reviewed. Call me crazy, but I am not one to rush willy-nilly into theatrical experiences. If the words “inflexible fuddy-duddy” come to mind, I can easily live with that. I do not surrender to plays in bunches; I pick them selectively, one at a time.
The situation at hand was exactly the opposite. In fact, it virtually defined the proverbial “Pig-in-a-Poke” operation. My assiduous screening system had been bypassed, and now, sitting on the table in our front hallway is a stack of tickets to four plays I knew nothing about, which, the money having already been shelled out – if you will forgive the Latinized formulation – I was now compelled to attend.
I was scheduled to this quartet of involuntary visits to the theater because some silver-tongued stranger sweet-talked the woman I am inordinately fond of into a subscription.
FLASH FORWARD to “Subscription Offering Number One”:
I am attending a play set in a girls’ high school locker room.
Dry Land is written by recent (2015) Yale graduate Ruby Rae Spiegel, who completed the play before she was twenty-one. Before I was twenty-one, I wrote the mini-musical My Fair Zaidy at Camp Ogama.
So we are different in that regard.
Dry Land’s primary characters are two teenaged girls, members of their high school swim team, whose relationship, we are shown, is both spiky and ambiguous. The first line of the play is, “Punch me in the stomach.”
And that’s exactly what takes place throughout the extended opening sequence – a girl punches another girl in the stomach, each punch, at the “punchee’s” insistence, progressively harder than the previous one. These aggressive shots to the midsection, we come to discover, are a strategic effort to induce an abortion. (Which the pregnant girl is too young to procure without her mother’s involvement and she is adamantly unwilling to tell her, making the only available option a “do-it-yourself” termination.)
An hour-and-a-half or so later – SPOILER ALERT – the effort’s intention is ultimately (graphically, both visually and audiatorially) successful…
Life goes on.
The play’s anti-climactic coda implies.
(An intriguing inclusion in the play’s action is the school maintenance man, cleaning up the inevitable consequences. Not “The maintenance man begins cleaning up the inevitable consequences – “FADE OUT”; the audience is treated to close to five minutes of “real time”, watching a maintenance man mop up the discarded detritus. The “maintenance man’s” efficiency in this regard is a memorable highlight of the production. When he finally rolls his cart of cleaning equipment offstage, one feels a powerful impulse to applaud.)
So that’s the play. A lot of punching in the stomach, followed eventually by induced labor, interspersed throughout the evening’s entertainment with typical teenage girl – and in one scene, teenage boy – yammering banter. An hour and forty-five minutes – no intermission, a serious challenge to most Seniors at the best of times, the experience compounded by the fact that if I had had any idea what this play was about, I would have been home, watching the Dodgers.
It is a difficult prospect, evaluating a play not intended for you. What appropriate standard can be justifiably applied? Was the ubiquitous “teenage banter” bogus or eerily accurate? For an authoritative answer to that one, you would have to consult someone a half-a-century-and-then-some my junior. I thought the dialogue in Juno was believable, but my more Juno-contemporaneous daughter Anna just hooted. Fogies are easily hoodwinked by such specifics.
What about the evaluative measuring sticks of “situational insight”, “interesting storytelling” and “nuanced characterization”?
Hey, the playwright was in college. In college, I could barely eat with a fork. Additionally, a question I have frequently wondered about and not just in this play, is if the characters the writer’s considering are superficial and they portray them exactly as they are how can the resulting enterprise be anything other than superficial?
“Is it possible – or even desirable - to make shallow characters sound deep?” Tell me if you know, because I am totally stymied.
Anyway, as with Yom Kippur services and scheduled colonoscopies, everything eventually comes to an end, as did this play. Followed in the lobby by a heartfelt “I’m sorry” from the guileless victim a savvy telephone marketer. “At least our seats were good,” was my caring shot at bolstering enthusiasm. I’m quite a guy, aren’t I?
As we walked back to our car, a troubling thought inundated my devastated consciousness:
“Three more of these plays to go.”
They can’t all be like this one, can they?
Tell me they can’t be.
You don’t have to mean it.