Slow Girl

by Greg Pierce
Directed by Anne Kauffman
Featuring Željko Ivanek and Sarah Steele
Lincoln Center Theater at the Clara Tow Theater, 150 West 65th Street
June 18, 2012 — July 29, 2012 [extended]
production web site

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
July 1, 2012

  • This just hit me…. I’m in the jungle. You live in the jungle.”
(L-R) Sarah Steele, Željko Ivanek. Image by Erin Baiano.

An older male relative and a teenaged girl in a crisis we gradually unpack from shards of information as they are provided to us forms part of the outline of Slow Girl, the inaugural production of the delightful small-scale Clara Tow Theater at Lincoln Center. In our audience experience amidst Central American jungle sounds and  the pared down set of the pared down life of the uncle our teenager has come to visit, we assume the conventional audience role — while we might lose ourselves in chance moments between characters, we know more than they do. We think we are there merely to observe, chortle with humor, sigh with sorrow, gasp with surprises. But no one in this course of this theatrical achievement knows the details or the emotional reality of our characters except the characters themselves. There are surprises, there are aggravations, there are journeys traveled by each character in this treehouse in the jungle. Moments of self-delusion and important moments of resonant power of the existence (or absence) of emotional support in each of our lives. The crisis that unfolds in Slow Girl, assembled out of believable dialogue between a privileged but troubled American teenager and her expatriate uncle, reverberates with lessons and art that grow as we consider, in retrospect, the characters we observed in the theatre.  Gorgeous.

Wordlessness begins and ends the play.  We come upon Sterling (Željko Ivanek) opening a serious-looking book then dozing to sleep from which his teenaged niece Becky (Sarah Steele) soon awakes him.  She has come to visit from her home in California that she shares with her mother (Stirling’s sister) and father and college-aged sister. We soon hear about an incident that involves a party, an accident, assertions or denials of responsibility, a classmate of diminished capacities (the “slow girl”), and a series of revelations as Becky moves from one gentle teenaged lie to another (each one shedding a layer of untruth).  Along the way we learn about Sterling’s departure from his business and law practice and details about his own bits of self-delusion in his world in the jungle. We join them in their worlds, we watch the story of an awful event gradually revealed, and in the end both characters come to some conclusions about their lives, about taking chances with truth, and about their commitment to one another.

Playwright Greg Pierce has crafted something delicate and delightful. The dialogue rings true, the pacing of the revelations works.  Director Anne Kauffman and her actors have pitched a perfectly choreographed verbal and physical dance.  Seated, mixing mango smoothies, walking the pattern of a maze designed for contemplation, yielding the only room with a door, acknowledging each other’s fears and needs.  We feel the love between them as we observe it demonstrated by action and by the act of listening.

And not for nothing, the Tow Theatre atop the original Lincoln Center Theater roof is a stunner, and the deck for pre-theatre and after-theatre snacks and drinks is a contribution to the artistic landscape on the Upper West Side.  A fabulous beginning for a charming new venue.

© Martha Wade Steketee (July 13, 2012)

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