By Dave Andrusko
Last August we wrote about Ruby Rae Spiegel, who, although only a recently turned 21 year old at Yale, was the recipient of gushing praise from the New York Times for her play “Dry Land.”
Spiegel’s play is about a popular teenager [Amy] who has a DIY (Do It Yourself) abortion, the ultimate expression of “liberation.” And, making Spiegel even better copy, 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.”
No wonder Laura Collins-Hughesaug was ecstatic. But careful just how far she went. For more details 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 tha
t 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.
And on Saturday, the Boston Globe, bless its pro-abortion-to-the-core self, brought us up to date on Ms. Spiegel’s ascending star.
And, as was suggested might happen last year, we learn that “Dry Land” “premiered last fall at New York’s Here Arts Center, produced by the downtown theater company Colt Coeur,” according to Christopher Wallenberg. And that “Company One is staging the play’s Boston premiere at the Boston Center for the Arts through Oct. 30.”
What do we learn from the Globe account we didn’t know before? A number of things, starting with the fact that Amy is jerk. A star athlete and part of the high school in crowd, she exploits Ester, the shy, awkward newcomer nerd. Why? Because she can.
According to Spiegel
“she feels like she has power over her, and her secret will be safe with her. If she has the abortion, there will be no institutional memory about the fact among any of her friends. So she goes to somebody who she plans not to get close to.”
Kind of like not getting close to her baby.
But don’t worry, in the end both girls (although not the baby) come out just fine, according to Spiegel. “Ester emerging as a very strong and confident person by the end, and Amy allowing herself to come to terms with her vulnerabilities and weakness.”
What else? Reporter and subject burnish Spiegel’s credentials as a martyr wannabe. Most of the New York theater companies she sent “Dry Land” to rejected it, we’re told.
“They were all like, ‘Oh, definitely send us your next thing. But we cannot stage this in front of our subscription audience,’ ” she says, referring to a particularly graphic scene late in the play. “Honestly, some theaters were like, ‘So do you feel like that’s integral to the piece — to have that happen onstage?’ ”
And if that isn’t enough, Wallenberg tells us Spiegel has “suffered for her art.” How so?
As a junior at Yale, she earned a C-minus in the class “Work and Daily Life in Global Capitalism.” But the grade, she says, can be attributed not to partying or the distractions of a first love affair. Instead of having her head buried in a textbook, she was writing her first full-length play.
Just so we’re clear, Spiegel has sex with some guy she “likes,” freaks out about getting pregnant, reads a New Republic story, is inspired to write a graphic, bloody play about a do-it-yourself abortion in which the Big Shot gets to power trip the new girl into assisting her in her DIY abortion, and then pontificates about the “mixed messages” society sends to women “about sex and sexuality.”
About Spiegel’s own pregnancy scare, she tells Wallenberg, “I was freaked out about my response and didn’t quite understand it.” So, what was it like?
“It’s that feeling of being almost diseased, like you have something alive in your body and you actually have to do something about it. It’s a ticking time bomb.”
“Almost diseased.” No wonder the New York Times gushed over “Dry Land.”
You have to work not to dismiss Spiegel as a cartoonist stereotype. The former Weather Underground father, the mother who hosts feminist academics, the pretense that she is both Amy and Ester, the gibberish about mixed messages which isn’t mixed at all: it’s call personal responsibility.
Let me conclude with this, which I could not in my wildest imagination have made up.
Spiegel is asked by another interviewer, “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.)