Autumn 2017 has been a very good season for powerful female performances on the Austin stage, from “Vampyress” and “Storm Still” at the Vortex Theatre to “The Wolves” at Hyde Park Theatre. Now, the inaugural performance from a new company joins that list with Permanent Record’s production of Ruby Rae Spiegel’s “Dry Land,” playing through Dec. 2 at the Mastrogeorge Theatre.
“Dry Land” follows Amy and Ester, two members of a high school swim team, and looks at the highs and lows of their friendship through both typical high school melodrama and the more serious concern of Amy’s attempts to have an abortion without her mother finding out. The majority of the play takes place between the girls in the locker room of their local pool, an intimate environment that underscores the girls’ growing rapport and the very bodily nature of Amy’s problem.
The female leads of “Dry Land” are pitch-perfect in their roles. Lindsey Markham (who is also Permanent Record’s artistic director and the show’s producer) is at turns cynical and silly as Amy, with a deeply brooding and increasingly frantic and angry response to her unwanted pregnancy. As Ester, Brandi Gist starts out with puppy dog loyalty to Amy but gradually sheds her hesitancy as the story unfolds. Both actresses are given meaty roles to play, with Gist transitioning from a girl who makes every sentence a question into a confident young woman, while Markham plumbs the depths of mental (and ultimately physical) pain to explore Amy’s deep suffering.
In supporting roles, Alani Rose Chock and Brennan Patrick also shine. Chock’s Reba is a counterpoint to Amy and Ester, a phone-obsessed girl dealing with much more typical teenage problems (and whose own long-standing friendship with Amy creates a rift between the other two girls). Though only appearing in one scene, Patrick brings nuance, sympathy and sadness to college boy Victor, whom Ester meets while trying out for his school’s swim team.
Behind the scenes of this production is director Marian Kansas, who does a masterful job of focusing on the surface-level simplicity of the text in order to allow its more subtle strengths and darkness to come through. The production eschews any bells and whistles in order to highlight the actresses and their story, with character work grounded at the center of it all. Kansas, who also directed last year’s “Dust” for her own Heartland Theatre Collective, is quickly becoming a director to watch.
“Dry Land” is a dark, bitingly funny, vicious, tender, ultimately empowering narrative about both the intensity and the mundanity of the lives of contemporary teenage girls. It is a vital, necessary show that hopefully predicts future great productions from Permanent Record Theatre.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday through Dec. 2.
Where: Mastrogeorge Theater, 130 Pedernales St. Suite 318B