Theater review: Dry – InDaily
We have been alerted for more than 50 years to climate change. The rapid deterioration of our biosphere is a terrifying concept to consider. Reports of polar melting, sea level rise and increasingly chaotic weather conditions have the enormity and unreality of science fiction. So how do we come to terms with this in a way that might sink in?
To dry, Catherine Fitzgerald’s biting little climate satire, presents the subject in an often brutal and necessarily local way. Located on a property in the arid hinterland of South Australia, To dry is a dystopian glimpse of the present and the near future.
Two middle-aged sisters, Patience and Ellen, are holed up on a crumbling farm, running out of food, measuring water with a spoonful. The city’s pipeline has long been closed. Their neighbors and local residents were put on a train and moved to refugee camps in the capital.
The sisters categorically refuse to budge and spend their time trying to desalinate the seawater and keep the snakes away. They look like a Beckett play: they wait in vain for the return of Ellen’s husband, Klaus, while they bicker over trivia and recall a bygone agrarian era.
Fitzgerald’s engaging production has a dream quality. There is a nostalgia and a childish regression in the ruin of the sisters.
Under the high roof and on the spacious stage of Hart’s Mill in Port Adelaide, designer Gaelle Mellis’ ensemble consists of a large overhead screen, a dented tent and some antique furniture – a sculptor chair, Bentwood dining chairs and a wooden table for simulated tea ceremonies from soft porcelain cups and saucers.
The stage is lavishly lit by Nic Mollison in tones of reddish dust and buttery sun which, combined with the haunting lyrical music of Catherine Oates, lend an elegiac melancholy to this catastrophic situation.
And to make sure we have no doubts about where these events are taking place, Alex Frayne’s extraordinary landscape photograph is zoomed in on the screen, depicting South Australian scenes from Yanerbie Dunes, Oodnadatta. Track and landscape around Port Augusta.
Later in the room, when the sisters, joined by an anonymous African man, drive a Kalamazoo hand pump railroad car to move to what they hope is safety, Frayne’s photos of rusty signs, of Abandoned water tanks and gasoline trucks form a rolling diorama of the already visible decline of our rural hinterland as the Goyder Line sinks further south.
The performances are excellent, capturing the wacky, but also tragic quality of Fitzgerald’s text. As the somewhat misnamed Patience, Eileen Darley, is the classic older sister, adept at manipulating and enlightening her gormless younger brother. Darley, dressed in a brown gingham with her shiny red hair, is like a wise and abandoned Southern Belle, steeped in occasional racism, insisting on etiquette but swearing like a soldier, and – gun in hand – determined to l ‘to take with.
Unlike Ellen, Caroline Mignone is capricious, uncertain, strangely poetic and oddly mischievous. Its curvy physical comedy and deadpan lines are a delight (and a relief from the torpor) as the two actors explore the mercurial, but repetitively absurd, interaction of these usual sisters.
As a mysterious and anonymous man, the other who brings the bad news of the tyrannical chaos of the capital, Stephen Tongun is of memorable eloquence. We only get fragments of his origins, but his speech of gratitude for being welcomed as a refugee is loaded with the author’s irony, and his treatment at the hands of the sisters is a reminder of white colonial presumption.
To dry is an intriguing work with a quiet ambition that unexpectedly captures us. It’s awkward in places, sometimes cryptic, and the final scene should be less abrupt. But it’s richly imagined, visually captivating, and asks uncomfortable questions that are long overdue.
To dry, written and directed by Catherine Fitzgerald, is produced by Far and Away Productions and Country Arts SA in association with State Theater South Australia. He plays at Hart’s Mill, Mundy Street, Port Adelaide, until November 20.
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.