Permanent Record Theatre's Dry Land

With this production, this company makes a bold debut and a fierce statement about life for teenage girls

Brandi Gist (l) and Lindsey Markham

The girls' locker room is stuffed to bursting with untold secrets. Decades of collected whispers ricochet off the tile, ranging in topic from the latest sophomore crushes to who puked in zero period trig. But make no mistake, while run-of-the-mill mundane high school happenings compose the bulk of these clandestine conversations, this ghostly ocean of echoes harbors some truly dark undercurrents. Permanent Record Theatre sets you adrift in these savage waters sans lifeboat in its inaugural production, Ruby Rae Spiegel's Dry Land.

And if Dry Land is an indication of the kind of work that Permanent Record plans to bring to Austin, we should all be very excited. All the technical strengths are there: a set that boasts spot-on realism (the only thing missing is that locker room smell), an extremely talented cast (composed of Lindsey Markham, Brandi Gist, Alani Rose Chock, Brennan Patrick, and Tom Swift) and fearless direction by Marian Kansas. But what makes this company most intriguing is the subject matter it chose to explore.

The secret lives of teenage girls can be uncomfortably adult, and from the get-go, Dry Land lets the audience know it's not in for an easy story. Amy has enlisted the help of her friend Ester to help her end an unwanted pregnancy. As the two explore more and more dangerous attempts at abortion in the back of their swim team locker room, their friendship erodes. Eventually, each young woman is isolated within her own set of pressures and expectations, until they are brought back together in the wake of Amy's miscarriage.

While the story at hand is unsettling, the real discomfort factor in Dry Land comes from the knowledge that Amy's situation is not confined to one locker room in one school that one time. This is a tragedy that plays out daily in our own communities (yes, even yours), our precious girls trapped in a culture that tells them no one should ever force anyone to have sex because you get to say what should happen to your body, except that you can't enjoy sex, either – a good girl always says no, and women should absolutely be forced to be pregnant if they get pregnant because they had sex and are whores and must be punished for it. We have created a culture where teenage girls can't even tell their own parents they are pregnant. We have created obstacles for terminating a pregnancy that are practically insurmountable for adult women, leaving these desperate teenage girls, still children themselves, to stab themselves with knitting needles, take small sips of bleach, eat pennyroyal and throw themselves down flights of stairs to try to induce a miscarriage. And when that miscarriage happens, it never happens somewhere warm and safe. All too often, it happens in secret, screaming and scared on a concrete floor, cramping and bleeding and shitting onto old newspaper. It is a sad, shameful, and extremely dangerous space – one that is reserved almost exclusively for teenage girls, who are already one of the most vulnerable demographics of our population. They deserve better.

With Dry Land, the artists of Permanent Record Theatre make a bold statement to the Austin theatre community: They are committed to making art, they do fantastic work, they take punk rock-style risks, they fearlessly explore difficult issues, and they came to play. See this show, and put them on your radar.

Also, a side note: As of late I am noticing some truly remarkable work by some crazy talented young women in this city. Keep it up, ladies. Girls to the front.

Dry Land

Mastrogeorge Theatre, 130 Pedernales Ste. 318-B
Through Dec. 2
Running time: 1 hr., 30 min.
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Permanent Record Theatre, Marian Kansas, Brandi Gist, Lindsey Markham, Alani Rose Chock, Brennan Patrick, Tom Swift

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