BWW Review: DRY LAND Is a Flawed But Savage Portrait of Female Teenaged Life
DRY LAND is play by Ruby Rae Spiegel that concerns a seventeen year old high school girl who is exploring options for ending her unwanted pregnancy. With the right to choose being part of the current war on women that unfolds daily in our political arena, this subject matter is both timely and a story that needs to be told. Spiegel's play pulls no punches and features dialogue that offers the authentic voice of young women; however, the script has some flaws that when not handled properly, stick out and call attention to themselves and the holes in the story. In this inaugural production from Permanent Record Theatre, director Marian Kansas has given the audience some powerful and riveting moments; but, as a whole, the flaws in the script kept the evening from hanging together.
While it would be easy to label DRY LAND as an abortion play, to do so would be a disservice. What the play is really all about is an honest look at high school friendships. Amy (Lindsey Markham) is pregnant, running out of options and desperate for a friend to help her terminate her pregnancy without involving her family. She turns to fellow swimmer Ester (Brandi Gist) as a confidante who will help her with her plans. One of the flaws in Spiegel's script is that it is essentially a two-hander; but instead of going with a two actor format, the play contains the underwritten characters of Reba (Alani Chock) and Victor (Brennan Patrick), along with a janitor (Tom Swift). Dramatically, the play would flow far better if these characters (both of which were given fine performances by Chock and Patrick, respectively) were told as stories from the perspective of the characters of Amy or Ester. The problem of the janitor isn't so easily handled. Technically, the character serves to clean the stage after the pivotal and messy scene where Amy finally succeeds in terminating her unwanted pregnancy. However, in the laziest possible type of playwriting, the audience is subjected to over five minutes of watching the janitor take off his watch, put his hair up in a ponytail and then wipe up the floor with the paper and finally mop the floor. I get what the message is here. I just don't think it qualifies as entertainment and further, to subject an audience to that is unconscionable.
While there are some interesting and powerful moments here, Marian Kansas's directing is often static and there were some serious diction and enunciation problems that should have been addressed by the director. Many moments were so soft in volume or so seriously mumbled as to be incomprehensible.
Technically, there is some very nice work here. Production designer Lindsey Markham has done a great job with the set and recreating a sterile girl's locker room that is so realistic you can almost smell the chlorine. Similarly, her lighting works perfectly to enhance the drama.
Lindsey Markham, as Amy, clearly has an understanding of youthful meanness and is very effective at delivering believably those types of cruel psychological strategies youth employ as they search to discover how to use their powers and how to survive in their tribe. The two actors, Brandi Gist and Markham, are fearless and clearly committed to being in the present during the action of the play. Both are courageous in this commitment. However, even as I saw their passion in their choices and decisions, I had no feeling for how they got to this horrendous place. The end result was two dimensional rather than fully drawn three dimensional characters. My lack of belief in the two principal characters, Amy and Ester, left me out of the emotional loop and gave me plenty of room to contemplate some of the holes in the play. The fact that I was more connected to the minor characters of Reba and Victor meant the author hadn't engaged me.
Young female atheletes, high schoolers, and abortion are all individually difficult dramatic subjects. A playwright has to get beneath the surface to uncover hidden motivations which playwright Spiegel, in her debut at age 21, hasn't been entirely successful at. I wanted to like DRY LAND more, as the subject matter is important and needs to be told and offers fertile ground for real and necessary drama. But, unfortunately, this production of a weak play that is more about a star athlete taking advantage of a shy and awkward newcomer didn't amount to enough to sustain my interest.
DRY LAND by Ruby Rae Spiegel
Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission
DRY LAND, Produced by Lindsey Markham for Permanent Record at Mastrogeorge Theatre (130 Pedernales Street, Austin, TX, 78702).
This production closed on December 10, 2017