Los Angeles Theater Review: SLOWGIRL (Geffen)

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by Tom Chaits on March 13, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles


In cooking it is often necessary to heat a mixture slowly bringing it to a simmer and keeping it just below the boiling point, allowing all its savory sweetness to surface. Such is the case with the Geffen Playhouse’s production of Greg Pierce’s Slowgirl. Performed “alley” style (an oblong stage flanked by seating on opposite sides) in the William Petersen in the West Coast premiere of Slowgirl directed by Randall Arney at the Geffen Playhouse.intimate Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater, the engrossing two-hander starts out cold and slowly adds the heat upping the ante along the way. The end result is a satisfying roux of emotion, reflection, and familial obligation that thickens the sauce, pleasing even the most discriminating theatrical “foodie.”

To reveal too much of the plot would spoil the stew and detract from the pleasure of experiencing the story first hand as it unfurls at its leisurely, yet always involving, pace. Sterling (CSI’s William Petersen) is a reclusive attorney living a monastic life of self-inflicted exile in a small village near Los Angeles, Costa Rica. His peaceful solitude is interrupted when he is visited by his 17-year-old outspoken niece Becky (Rae Gray). At first they appear to be from opposite sides of the spectrum, but as the story progresses we learn they are indeed very similar. Both harbor secrets and suffer the pangs of being victims of implied innocence and perceived guilt.

Rae Gray in the West Coast premiere of Greg Pierce's Slowgirl at the Geffen Playhouse.Mr. Pierce has crafted a smooth and steady flow of discovery that keeps the audience hanging on his every word. His dialogue is extremely conversational and allows the actors, under the watchful eye of director Randall Arney, to portray real, fully informed, and recognizable characters with great success. Mr. Petersen has layered Sterling with equal parts regret, longing, retrospection, and self-flagellation.  It’s a controlled, metered performance that wins the empathy of all. Ms. Gray captures the whirlwind that is the developing brain of an adolescent with zero appropriateness filter (she discusses “blow jobs” with the same ease and innocence as she talks about the weather), adding humor and pathos that rings true at every turn. Both of the performers originated the roles in Steppenwolf’s production of the show, and have clearly managed to find new insights into their characters keeping them fresh and spontaneous.

Technical achievements are stellar. Takeshi Kata has designed a simple but functional jungle hut set ringed at the top by palms fronds and sylvan flora that is accentuated by the mood setting lighting design of Daniel Ionazzi. Rounding out the tech trifecta is the sound design by Richard Woodbury; he has created a totally immersive sound experience that is really a third character.

Slowgirl is like a fine meal, meant to be savored for its nuance and subtlety with each bite revealing new and intriguing flavors. Sit back, relax and let it simmer. Your palate will thank you and your appetite for tasty theater will be satiated.

William Petersen and Rae Gray star in the West Coast premiere of Greg Pierce's Slowgirl at the Geffen Playhouse.photos by Michael Brosilow
(courtesy of Steppenwolf Theatre Company)

Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater
Geffen Playhouse
10886 Le Conte Avenue in Westwood
scheduled to end on April 27, 2014
for tickets, call 310.208.5454
or visit www.geffenplayhouse.com

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