By Dave Andrusko
So the headline in the New York Times reads “Young, Fearless and Not Into Dragons: Ruby Rae Spiegel’s Play ‘Dry Land’ Confronts Abortion.”
You know the Times would drool over any play about abortion (unless, of course, the mother chooses not to abort). Add to this that the playwright is a recently turned 21 senior at Yale and Laura Collins-Hughesaug is already primed to be practically ecstatic. But there’s more.
Spiegel’s play is about a young girl who has a DIY (Do It Yourself) abortion, the ultimate expression of “liberation.” And, for good measure (sort of), her real-life father is a former member of the Weather Underground and her mother (once her parents divorced) “filled the rooms of their Park Slope, Brooklyn, brownstone with feminist academics.”
There are hints about the play’s content, but for more I went to an interview Spiegel gave to Adam Szymkowicz.
The more emotional core of the play came from a feeling that I had about a year and a half ago after I had had sex with someone that I liked, but wasn’t particularly close with, and was afraid that I had become pregnant. That intense feeling of aloneness, that the problem affected me and only me and that it resided in my body, literally on my person, was really startling and stuck in my mind for a while after the possibility of pregnancy was a material concern. The final puzzle piece was when I read an article in The New Republic called “The Rise of the DIY Abortion,” and I saw theatrical potential in the kind of intimate bodily acts that are demanded of you if you attempt to abort a fetus non-surgically. Also from a political standpoint I found it interesting that articles that detail these realities are somewhat common, but seeing them embodied is somehow too close to that experience. Of course many women do embody that reality, so maybe showing it on stage could be a kind of radical form of empathy for that surprisingly common, yet often silence experience. So bringing those pieces together, the aesthetic interest in pools [she spent much of her childhood swimming], the personal emotional connection, and the interesting political and theatrical story I saw in the article, created the groundwork for the play as it stands now.
Spiegel’s fortunes are on the rise. Her play will have its premiere September 6 in a Colt Coeur production, at the Here Arts Center in the South Village.
We learn Colt Coeur’s artistic director, Adrienne Campbell-Holt, “said she knew as soon as she read the script that she needed to direct the play.”
“Abortion is something that I have personal experience with, that many of the people in the company have personal experience with,” said Ms. Campbell-Holt, who is 34. “I have never had as immediate a reaction to a play as I had to this play.”
Without being specific [aka graphic], Collins-Hughesaug tells us
“When ‘Dry Land’ was staged by students at Yale last semester, Ms. Spiegel said, audiences were warned that the play contains violence. A young woman fainted anyway, she said, and a man in the front row spent an entire performance rubbing the belly of his pregnant girlfriend. Another young man told Ms. Spiegel the play inspired him to call his mother to ask about the abortion she had in college.”
I don’t know Spiegel and I don’t know her mother, although the temptation to conclude she was deeply influenced by her mother is hard to avoid. Especially if you happen to have read another interview Spiegel gave, this one to Rebecca Deutsch.
Deutsch asked her, “Tell me a story from your childhood that influenced who you are as a writer or as a person.”
This story actually kind of relates to the subject of DRY LAND. So my mom brought me to a pro-choice rally when I was like four or five, and I was pretty bored at first— it was crowded and loud and not the most kid friendly place. But about halfway through I perked up and started chanting along with the crowd. My mom was so proud—they were chanting, “What do we want? Choice! When do we want it? Now!” I was halving a blast, shouting at the top of my lungs, and then my mom put me on her shoulders. She soon realized that I wasn’t actually shouting the real words. I was yelling, “What do we want? Toys! When do we want them? Now!” (I thought it was a pro-toys rally.)
This relates on tangentially to my writing— but I misspell almost every other word I write (I’m pretty dyslexic) and I’ve found that some kind of wonderful things actually come out of it. Spell-check thinks that I mean a different word, and oftentimes I end up keeping the misunderstanding because it was actually better than the word I first intended. Not that a pro-toys rally is better than a pro-choice rally, but you get what I mean!
Yes, we get what you mean. A pro-toys rally might suggest we have kids to give toys to. And, no, you would not expect a pro-choice rally to be the most kid friendly place.
It took me a while to track down but the New Republic article Spiegel is referring to involves Jennie Linn McCormack, about whom we have written many times.
McCormack self-aborted in 2010 using unspecified abortifacient pills purchased over the Internet when she was between 18 and 21 weeks pregnant. Just two things besides the obvious fact that ordering abortifacients from the Internet is unbelievably dangerous.
First, even the zaniest pro-abortionist is leery about using RU-486 (the likely abortifacient) much past 9 weeks, certainly not past 11 weeks. Using it a couple of months later in her pregnancy was dangerous to Ms. McCormack, who has three living children.
Second, according to a story in Newsweek written by Nancy Hass, when she saw the size of the baby, McCormack was scared, “She didn’t know what to do—‘I was paralyzed,’ she says—so she put it in a box on her porch, and, terrified, called a friend. That friend then called his sister, who reported McCormack to the police.”
How Spiegel can find in McCormack’s bizarre behavior material for “interesting political and theatrical story” which stirred in her a “radical form of empathy” leaves me speechless.