Intense “Slowgirl” Satisfies
At The Theatre with Audrey Linden
Playwright Greg Pierce’s intimate play, “Slowgirl” is running at the Geffen under the skilled direction of Randall Arney in the Audrey Skirball Kenis Theatre. This two character drama brought the talents of Chicago’s Steppenwolf’s Company actors together with director Randall Arney, William Peterson, and Rae Gray, all of whom have been members. Petersen is known for his role as Grissom, the lead investigator in CSI fr which he received a Golden Globe nomination. Pierce’s character study is a riveting piece of work in which the somewhat slow pace is in contrast to the dark secrets that are uncovered.
Takeshi Kata’s beautifully designed, simple set in Los Angeles, Costa Rica worked so very well to establish Sterling’s rustic home. The set was in the middle of the theater with the audience on both sides. The only problem I had was at times I could not see the actors from my vantage point. The set consisted of a natural wood flooring with a porch and hammock, a doorway to the room with a cot and was surrounded with jungle-like foliage and plants. The room was moved to create the open space of the labyrinth.
Kudos to Richard Woodbury’s very effective sound design. I loved the lilting feel of the calypso music as the play opened and all the various jungle sounds complete with parrots, jungle sounds, the toe nails of the scampering iguanas on the tin roof, the bugs, etc. I was transfixed by how these sounds created the reality and feeling of the jungle.
As the play opened, we meet Sterling who is awaiting the arrival of his niece, Becky. He snoozes with a book in his hammock to be awakened with a jolt by the energetic teenager. He hasn't seen Becky for nine years, since he sought solitary life in the jungle. There are strong contrasts between these two characters and much of the play focuses on their differences.
Sterling is a loner who likes quiet and solitude. Becky is an outspoken, gregarious teen who non-stop talks and needs people around her. Her Uncle Sterling is a reticent, hand wringing, people phobic guy who is content to make smoothies, read a book, meet with his workers Hector and Sonia, and walk the labyrinth he created. The labyrinth “is the best thing I’ve done.” Becky hasn’t yet done her “best thing.” He is afraid of life and has abandoned the city and his career as a lawyer to be a loner in a remote jungle. Becky speaks in loud bursts and rushes of run-on sentences peppered with shocking swear words. Sterling is soft spoken, shy, and correct. He doesn't finish his sentences which lose energy and drop off into an abyss of silence, which Becky finds maddening.
Becky does not believe in God and Sterling has studied Buddhism and Shinto and has created his own God. He meditates in the silence as he walks his labyrinth. It is obvious silence bothers Becky and she chatters aimlessly into his wall of silence while walking. She is a distraction. Or is she? How can these seemingly two disparate people suffer each other’s company in the close quarters of Sterling’s home? Becky exclaims, “Your house is like a horror movie from the 80’s.” But, something has thrown these two together. His home has no doors; but the doors to his emotions are closed, until Becky relentlessly pries them open.
As the play progresses, we find these two may have more in common than being blood relatives. As they spar, their secrets are revealed like peeling layers of an onion. Each peel leads to another and yet another as a relationship of trust develops. Maybe they are not so different underneath. And, maybe they can heal each other’s wounds
Becky was sent by her mother because she was suspended from school over a horrible accident which happened to a teen, "Slowgirl. “I hate my life.” Sterling loved Becky’s mother, his sister and best friend, but after a divorce, he fell into a “black hole” and turned his back on city life and people. His brother-in-law hates him. Why?
Sterling has “convergence insufficiency” in which his eyes don’t focus in close up range. That seems to be the metaphor for his lifestyle. What caused him to drop out and run away? While he doesn't ask questions, Becky hammers at him. She is explosively expressive. Sterling is unemotional. His focus seems awkwardly inward, much like his insufficiency.
Petersen gives us a slow and pondering Sterling, almost to the point of tedium. I thought his characterization was a bit over postured with the repeated hand wringing, and fumbling with his glasses. “I’m not good at being around people.” “I say the wrong thing.” His awkward silences got to me, particularly after the climax. There were unspoken words in those silences. In contrast, Becky says, “Stuff comes into my head, and I just say it.” Rae Gray’s expressive Becky was the perfect counterpoint to Petersen’s reticent Sterling. She energized the performance and was like a beacon of light, which served to balance the slow and thoughtful performance of Petersen’s Sterling. At the climax, Becky yells at her uncle, “Don’t you have any emotions in your body?” And, we finally see a hint of life in his anger.
The juxtaposition of these two different people brings a healing salve to their wounds. I won’t tell you the plot points or secrets or how they are revealed, but there is a common thread as each lets down their guard and comes to care for the other. We are left to wonder what will happen next in their lives, and to a degree it may not matter because an abyss has been crossed with caring.
I would have liked to have seen more in terms of character development in Sterling and I don’t know if it was in the writing, the directing or acting that more did not come across. That awkward silence, fumbling and deliberate restraint held through to the very end. Despite this, the story was compelling and the developing relationship very meaningful.
Audrey Linden is a writer, actress and singer. She can be seen in a long-running “Associated Tax Resolution” commercial, two “Little Caesars” spots, a “Teva International Pharmaceutical” short, Gene Simmons’ “Family Jewels,” “America’s Court with Judge Ross,” VHS “Tough Love 2,” “Wendy’s” etc
Audrey teaches ON CAMERA COMMERCIAL and IMPROV COMEDY WORKSHOPS through the City of Beverly Hills. To register, call 310-285-6850 M-F 9 a m - 3:30 p m . Her classes are held at 241 Moreno Dr. B.H. 90212. Her next classes start Monday, March 31st IMPROV COMEDY 6:45-9:15 P M $118 for 8 classes, and Thursday, April 3rd ON CAMERA COMMERCIALS 6:45-9:15 P M for 8 Thursdays . ENROLL EARLY AS CLASSES FILL. For more information, contact Audrey at firstname.lastname@example.org