‘Dryside’: A Poetic New Drama on Climate Change, Race, and Class

In the not-so-distant future, rising global temperatures have melted the ice caps and flooded human settlements. The poor, unable to afford escape, are forced to remain in the dangerous coastal regions where they are vulnerable to the tides, while the rich have fled to inland deserts where they live in artificially controlled environments, collectively called the “Dryside.” It also happens that present-day racial inequalities in America have worsened, with most of the “Floodsoes,” those living in the flooded areas, being black and Latino while Dryside is predominantly white. Although the premise itself risked being an oversimplified parable about systemic social injustice, director and playwright Aislinn E. Brophy ’17, who created this play for her Theater, Dance, and Media senior thesis, has created a complex and surprising world.

The play’s greatest strength lies in the relationships between its characters, which are so intimate and realistic that it feels almost like a violation of privacy to be listening in. The story centers around strong-willed Larina, a teacher in a grossly underfunded public school in the flood zone, played by the charismatic Carla Troconis ’19. She is Latina and was born in the area. As one of the few to get out through the public school system, she returns to help young students like her do the same. She is in an unhappy relationship with Jax, a well-meaning white relief worker from the Dryside, played by Henry M.N. Brooks ’19. Their lives intertwine with those of the married couple who just moved in from the Dryside, starry-eyed Peter and bubbly Agave, played by Caleb M. Lewis ’17 and Eliza B. Mantz ’18, respectively.

Placing real-world social problems in a parallel world works well in “Dryside.” Larina’s voice serves as an outlet for current tensions and uncertainties about race, class, and politics. Larina feels ambivalent about the implicitly privileged position of white Drysider relief workers like her boyfriend, and the play puts the idealism of advocacy and volunteer work to the test.

The actors are skilled at expressing unsaid thoughts and emotions through eloquent gestures. None of the characters seem morally perfect or better than another. They are all well-intentioned and aware of their particular privileges, but what they really want often come[S] into conflict with their loyalties and duties. The characters are each so relatable and intriguing that the show could have focused on any one of the four and worked well.

The show added another layer of complexity with the paradoxical reverence the Floodsoes have for the very ocean that threatens to destroy them. Four mute, languid dancers (Meghan Onserio ’19, Abby D.K. Duker ’19, Matthew Munroe ’17, and Irla Belli ’20) portrayed the sea. With stunning choreography by Zaria Smalls ’19, Joel W. Bateman ’17, Rob Rush ’18, and Margaret Canady ’20, the dancers personified the mystery and insurmountable power of nature. The stars appeared intermittently as seven women in the aisles of the orchestra seats, singing music with otherworldly harmonies by Eden H. Girma ’18, led by the rapping queen star, Maia, played by Skylar Bree-Takyi ’20 in a pink faux fur jacket. The divine power of the sea and stars at once seems like it could be a metaphor for the hopeless entrenchment of social inequality today, that all people, rich or poor, are equal in the face of imminent death at nature’s hands.

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