There’s something about watching two actors onstage with minimal set design that makes one sit up and listen – really listen to what they are saying, as layers upon layers of mistakes and regrets are peeled one after another off a broken man’s back by his brash 17-year old niece. In my case, at least, it also made me realize just how much I have missed watching such riveting performances and just how much I love them.
Slowgirl is a 2-actor play that’s set in the Costa Rican jungle, where parrot calls, cricket songs and the scratching of the iguanas upon the tin roof are broken by the unabashed words of a 17-year old to an uncle she hasn’t seen since she was seven years old. When the play opens, we see Sterling, played by William Petersen (Gil Grissom of CSI) fixing a stack of books in his little casa set in the Costa Rican jungle. There really isn’t much to do here, and we see that as Sterling picks out a book to read, settles carefully into his hammock and reads till he falls asleep. I bet that’s how his life is like every day – when Sunday just seems like a Monday and Monday seems like a Tuesday, and so on…
When Rae Gray’s Becky arrives, she startles her uncle awake and from here on, you see that this girl is a motormouth – go, go, go with her mouth, and now and then, she’ll even throw in a word or two that jars you back to reality and makes you wonder if 17-year old kids really do talk like this (they do). In my case and at least for my companion, it was always a sexually related word, and maybe it was hearing it being spoken from a 17-year old character that made some people in the audience flinch a little, but I found it refreshing to hear it uttered in a play – plus it proved to be a ‘tell’ for her vulnerability (at least to me).
Becky, we find out, has been sent to Costa Rica by her mother, Sterling’s sister, even though she really shouldn’t be out of the country because of a harrowing accident that’s currently under investigation for. With her own father unable to look at her at the dinner table and a mother used to avoiding conflicts by simply, well, avoiding them, Becky now is in the hands of her uncle who has, it seems, fled the United States after his own set of seemingly-unfortunate events, and who has been living in the Costa Rican jungle for the last ten years, building trails and walking his hill-top labyrinth when he’s not reading books while swinging on his hammock.
Throughout the play, we see the characters slowly go through their individual journeys – though the journey that really matters here is Sterling’s. For while Becky’s journey has just begun, Sterling seems to have surrendered to the notion that he will probably die in this tropical paradise, away from the only family he has, and even friends – by choice. But is that a life worth living really, when everything else outside of you has just about gone to hell in a hand basket – where a young girl who has waited for him to come through with an empty promise seven years earlier is in dire need of a friend, and an ally?
Written by Greg Pierce, nephew of David Hyde Pierce, and directed by Randall Arney, Slowgirl stars William Petersen and Rae Gray, and is currently playing at the Geffen Playhouse till April 27.
Putting Slowgirl together with William Petersen and Rae Gray