Review: Dry Land by Permanent Record
by David Glen Robinson
Permanent Record Theatre company has the look of yet another Austin pop-up theatre group, full of passion, applying immense energy and even greater creative resources to produce plays they love. Their inaugural production, Dry Land by Ruby Rae Spiegel, is now on view at Mastrogeorge Theatre.
The play is a postcard to the world from the high school athletics locker room. And it is an SOS. The stage action is all about teenagers helping teenagers self-induce abortions. One may be grateful that the exact methods are not clearly explained, probably to avoid encouraging copycat mistakes. What the play aims at and successfully does is to show how teenagers may steadfastly refuse to reach out for practical help when life happens. Every generation produces a segment of profoundly alienated high school students, and Dry Land centers on these teens. The play might also be subtitled “Bizarre Sex Practices of the Underaged” in the manner of a Margaret Mead ethnographic study from the 1930s.
The two leads, Lindsey Markham (Amy, also the Permanent Record Artistic Director) and Brandi Gist (Ester) are talented, and their characters come through in expression and movement in addition to their lines of dialogue. Voice work was a problem, however. All the teenage characters spoke in the high, excited, sometimes breathless and clipped accents, probably like real honest-to-God insecure high school students. This dialogue style has verisimilitude, but it creates a dynamic of high nervous anxiety through the whole play (with the exception of one scene), and it never effectively comes down from that level. By the end of the one-act 90-minute play one yearns to leave and take a huge breath of cool night air.
The single exception is a wordless and pointless bit of action late in the play that goes on for more than five minutes, by which time the audience is already squirming. The janitor (Tom Swift) comes on to clean the locker room. That’s it. The scene serves as a transition and to remove props, but if that was all the producers really needed, the job could have been completed in thirty seconds. Because the intention was so opaque, the scene didn’t really work as relief from the immediately preceeding high-tension scene. Audience members became almost as insecure as the teenage characters while wondering what was going to happen to us next.
Dry Land will appeal to the high school set that wants to go see a play without their blockhead parents around. No worries, parents, Dry Land is so tightly attuned to that crowd that the kids won’t get any new ideas about dirty words, abortions, sex play, drug play, or where to hide cigarettes. It plays until December 2, 2017 at the Mastrogeorge Theatre, off Cesar Chavez in east Austin.
October 27 - December 10, 2017
130 Pedernales Street
Austin, TX, 78702
For more information visit: permanentrecordtheatre.org