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Slowgirl: Walking An Emotional Labyrinth

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Sterling lives in the Costa Rican jungle up the road from a village named for Los Angeles (population 84) and just a bit further from a town named for San Francisco (population 130.) A middle aged—I’d call him a hippie, but liberal might be closer to the truth—he withdrew from the civilization in which his life went belly-up 7 years ago, rather than reconfigure. With a couple to tend to simple needs, Sterling reads, walks and makes trails. He’s admittedly a bit lonely but apparently not bored.

“I’d probably blow my brains out if I were here by myself,” comments 17 year-old Becky, his motor-mouth niece, as she erupts into his formerly peaceful existence. The teenager has been sent away from the pressures of a police inquiry (in the USA) into a horrific accident that occurred as the result of an out of control party prank. She is a suspect under questionable circumstances. In the first half hour of their reaquaintance, Becky uses the terms sucks ass, skeeky, mindfuck, wants rum in her fruit smoothie and implies she’s sexually active. Like many her age, precocious attributes are balanced by an increasingly apparent naiveté.

Over a period of 5 days, as they walk Sterling’s stone path labyrinth, deal with iguanas on the roof and snakes in the grass, fear, avoidance, and guilt, both Becky’s and, unexpectedly, her uncle’s truths come out in fits and starts. The protagonists are not so different as we all initially assumed. What bonds is more than blood.

Playwright Greg Pierce has given us a well crafted piece in which character is divulged by reaction as much as in dialogue. The gradual sharing of integrated revelations feels organic as does the development of a solid, nuanced relationship. Were this a film, it would stand a proud Indy. There’s nothing Hollywood, nothing excessive.

Director Anne Kaufman has done a fine job of diversion here. Caught by the energy of an irritating, motor-mouth girl, empathetic to her tender, reticent relative, we’re drawn into a situation that becomes almost stealthily more engrossing than anticipated. Both Sterling’s thoughtful and frozen pauses and Becky’s firecracker admissions are extremely effective. The denouement evokes a series of reactions that are both realistic and startling.

Sarah Steele (Becky) has her character’s rhythms down perfectly. Barely a thought passes before her eyes as one speech swerves into the next. It’s like watching a pinball machine. Nerves are made infectious, emotions seem aptly confusing. Steele makes flailing an art. The trick is not to lose focus at the end of unleashing…which occasionally happens. All in all, however, a robust rendering.

Seljko Ivanek’s Sterling is stillness personified. The persuasive actor offers dramatization of an internalized man. Implicit pitfalls here are many and all avoided. Ivanek is present at all times. Silence is potent and many colored. Awkwardness is uncomfortable. Pain is delicately portrayed. A graceful, restrained portrayal.

Rachel Hauk’s Set creates a terrific jungle with green, leaning two-by-fours. An openly constructed house on stilts is believably basic and appropriately detailed-we see the tin roof and know exactly where windows will be during the rainy season. A second bed could only be a futon, the hammock looks ethnic, Sterling’s labyrinth is credible.

Japhy Weidman’s Lighting Design is filled with evocative jungle shadows. A night scene is affecting for the use of minimal, well placed illumination.

Slowgirl is the inaugural show of the New Claire Tow Theater atop The Vivian Beaumont at Lincoln Center. The facility is comfortable and spacious with generous seats and legroom, well tiered sightlines, and elevator access. Built to showcase new playwrights, directors and designers with fully staged productions, the new theater offers a house of $20 tickets.

Bravo.

Photo credit Erin Baiano

Lincoln Center Theater/LCT3 presents
Slowgirl by Greg Pierce
Directed by Anne Kaufman
With Zeljko Ivanek and Sarah Steele
Claire Tow Theater at Lincoln Center
www.lct3.org
Through July 29, 2012

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