In reviewing the off-off-Broadway premiere production of Ruby Rae Spiegel’s Dry Land in 2014, The New York Times’ chief theatre critic Ben Brantley said, “The most extraordinary occurrences take place amid ordinary settings with ordinary people, who behave as usual, only more so. This is a fact of human life that usually takes a while to register as we grow up. Ms Spiegel has evidently grasped it, quite firmly, early on.”
Spiegel created Dry Land at the age of 21 while completing her university studies. Set in the locker room of a Florida High School, the confronting play about female friendship and abortion is described as a deeply truthful portrait of the fears, hopes and bonds of teenage girls. It’s provoked an enormous response from critics and audiences in the US and London alike. Reviewing its London engagement, The Stage’s five-star critique described it as “astonishingly fresh and honest”.
And now, two of Sydney’s leading independent theatre companies – Outhouse Theatre Co and Mad March Hare – have teamed up to present the Australian premiere of Spiegel’s work. Directing the production is Claudia Barrie, who most recently directed the critically-lauded season of Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo that played the Old Fitz Theatre.
“I think it’s such an important piece for young women and I’m really happy to be on board,” actor Patricia Pemberton tells Theatre People. She plays Amy, one of the two central female characters in Dry Land, alongside Ester (played by Sarah Meacham).
“I don’t think we’ve really seen anything like this play before,” she says. “The pure nature of the piece is relentless … You’re seeing the story through the eyes of two young adolescent girls, and they go through such an emotional and physical journey … Maybe seeing it through the eyes of young girls will leave the audience feeling lost for words because it’s such a catastrophic piece.”
Pemberton recalls reading Dry Land for the first time.
“As soon as I put it down, I remember looking at the ceiling and waiting a few minutes, just staring into space [and] comprehending what I had read,” she says. “And from there, I was sold. It’s just such a great piece.”
Pemberton talks about the character of Amy.
“I would say she’s ballsy, but I also think that she’s quite a soft character,” she says.
“I think it’s such a treat for the audience to see someone who’s quite bold and not afraid to give it to somebody, but then on the flip side of that, it’s almost like she has a polar opposite underneath her. Her external presence and her internal presence are interesting because they’re quite opposite from each other. It’s really interesting for me as an actor to play with that and to understand how someone like that ticks.”
Pemberton also discusses the challenges she faces as a key player in such an intense piece.
“I’m a bit nervous for the crisis moments in the play, but I’ve been really lucky to be surrounded by a lot of support systems,” she says. “But I’m excited at the same time. I think we’re definitely going to get some reactions out of people and I’m looking forward to it.”
Pemberton graduated from the Actors Centre Australia (ACA) in 2016, and was cast in her role in Dry Land through an open call. She says more open calls should be encouraged.
“I was really lucky with Dry Land. I didn’t have an agent at the time and it was an open call. So without that option, I probably wouldn’t have been in the position that I am right now. I’m really thankful to the guys for that, and I think it’s a testament to the fact that you don’t know what’s out there until someone presents themselves to you.”
Pemberton believes Dry Land is a significant theatrical work for women of all ages.
“It’s a universal piece. I think it not only speaks to young people but to anyone of any age,” she adds.
“On that note, I think it’s a piece that everyone should see … These issues shouldn’t be just women’s issues. This is something we should bring to the forefront of everyone’s minds.”
Dry Land by Ruby Rae Spiegel
Presented by Outhouse Theatre Co and Mad March Hare at the KXT Theatre
Directed by Claudia Barrie
Produced by Jeremy Waters and Claudia Barrie
With Sarah Meacham, Michelle Ny, Patricia Pemberton and Charles Upton
Venue: The Kings Cross Theatre, Level 2, Kings Cross Hotel, 244-248 William St, Kings Cross
Season: 28 July- 19 August
Times: Wed- Sat 7.30 pm, Sunday 5pm
Price: $35 Adult, $30 Concession, $25 Previews