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Dry Land

Photo by Marnya Rothe

Outhouse Theatre Company and Mad March Theatre Company in association with bAKEHOUSE Theatre Company present, DRY LAND, by Ruby Rae Spiegel, at the Kings Cross Theatre (KXT), in the Kings Cross Hotel. July 28 – August 19.

DRY LAND is an American play by a young writer, Ruby Rae Spiegel, played in a 90 minute no interval one act mode. It is a particularly interesting entry, for an audience, into a story concerning the issues of young women (American high school age), never really dealt with on stage (perhaps, Wedekind’s SPRING AWAKENING is an exception, Premiered in 1906). For, this play is dealing with unwanted teenage pregnancy and the attempts to keep it hidden and the application of self-abortion through physical and chemical action. Talking to women friends afterwards, they spoke of knowing the circumstances of the play in their growing up. This was, for me, an eye-opener, new territory.

Two Florida students in swim training, Amy (Patricia Pemberton) and Ester (Sarah Rae, Anne Meacham) collude to hide and execute an abortion. We are in the locker room of the pool, a white tiled space with benches (Set Design by Isabel Hudson) as we are taken on a confronting and youthful ignorantly merciless journey of violence – oddly, there are no adults, parents, teachers or pool authorities, in this playing time to advise or assist with other alternatives. And it is not only the physical violence of the aborting of the foetus we are engaged with but also the psychology of the raw politics in the interactions of the developing psyches of these young evolving people, from adolescence to adulthood, where the discovering issues of one’s own sexuality is just as frightening.

Ms Spiegel has an acute ear for the content and cruel psychological strategies of youth as they try to make sense of their ‘powers’ and how to assert their Darwinian need to survive in the tribe. It is both comic and stark in its ruthlessness. The fact that it is told through the lives of two young women puts DRY LAND into the confrontational and informative world of the work of Australian playwright Patricia Cornelius with her recently presented plays SLUT (2008) and SHIT (2015). DRY LAND, Directed by Claudia Barrie, in a hyper-realistic manner, in real time, offers the witnessing endurance of the blood-soaked and horrendously noisy ultimate act of delivering the dead foetus on newspaper on white tiles. Not since the stoning of a baby in a pram in Edward Bond’s notorious but amazing play SAVED (1965), or, the plumbing with twisting knitting needles of the ear drums of a character in his LEAR (1971), will you have experienced such graphic stage images. (On opening night, a young man fainted at the near height of the action).

The two actors, Ms Pemberton and Meacham, are committed fearlessly in the present action of the play and are courageous in their investment. I, however, was not drawn in, not sensing or being presented with the complete life-force of their characters as fully realised people to be able to believe in them. The life force of any character on stage is shown with a realised sense of the time dimensions of the character, their past, their present and their future, all together, each moment, second to second, in the story. In life we exist in the present because of the ‘actions’ of our past and in ‘conscious or unconscious’ pursuit of our future. We are sitting, present, in that theatre because of our past, in conscious or unconscious pursuit of our future, which gives us our vulnerable humanity. Neither of these actors gave me thought processes that revealed their back story/history, their past, to help me justify what was happening in the present in front of me. I saw their passionate present choices/decisions but had no understanding how Amy or Ester got to this horrendous place. They just ‘were’ – two dimensional representations of youth in a particular time and space.

The closeness of this Traverse Space in the KXT is particularly demanding on actors to bring their own life existences to the storytelling, and not just to give good demonstrations of emotional states. Often, both these actors went to expert outpouring of emotional states at the expense of the technical need to harness, to balance the subjective emotional summonings with the objective need to story tell, to bring clarity to the text, the story telling tools of the writer, which often resulted in shouting which blurred the poetry, the artistry of the writing, and moved it into a kind of Grand Guignol, melodrama sensationalism.

The deliberate slow pacing of the many scene changes in the play accompanied by an ominous soundscape composition (Benjamin Pierpoint) and the instance of the laboured and dramatically extended floor cleaning of the blood (was there too much blood? – more suitable, with the noise, as well, to a full term labour than a three month expulsion?) by the nonchalant Janitor (Julian Ramundi) of the pool locker room, seemed to be an over statement of a sadistic tension that was a Director’s prerogative. Atmospherically affective, perhaps, but dramatically implausible. Ms Barrie has an inclination to this over-heated’ kind of statement, witness her choices in a work such as Philip Ridley’s SHIVERED (2012). It was the restraint to the horror of the emotional and graphic world of her production, with her actors, that made BENGAL TIGER AT THE BAGHDAD ZOO, earlier in the year, a significant experience of a first-rate kind: fully endowed emotional states simmering below the surface as readable sub-text with deliberate restraint, for the audience to be able to partake in an endowed cathartic experience with clear storytelling support, because the playscript was communicated front and centre.

So my lack of belief in the playing of the two principal characters, Amy and Ester, left me out of the emotional loop of the writer’s objective and gave me room to contemplate some of the dramaturgical holes in this first play by a young writer. I was more connected to the performances of Michelle Nye (Reba) and Charles Upton (Victor) in minor roles in the context of the story.

DAY LAND, is presented in this production as a ‘sensation’ (horror/gore) challenge and will be remembered by most who are courageous enough to attend as such, rather than as a brave exposure of what, it seems, is a regular part of the ‘plotting’ in most young women’s worlds, rarely, publicly, talked about, let alone exposed in live theatre performance.

If you enjoy sensation, this might be for you.