In the eye of the storm, or in this case, in the sweltering, humid jungle of Costa Rica, Randall Arney’s delicately cerebral, poignant and quietly dangerous production of Slowgirl unfolds. A Chicago transplant from the renowned Steppenwolf Theater Company, Slowgirl plays now through the end of April at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood. The story, by Greg Pierce, of two troubled souls holds true to the tagline: “Escape is easy but redemption is hard.” When an estranged uncle (played aptly with unsettling gentleness by CSI‘s William Peterson) and his enchantingly crass niece (played with seething conviction by Boardwalk Empire‘s Rae Gray) connect in the wake of her suspension, a fragile truth unfolds.
Peterson’s ‘Uncle Sterling’ possesses a seemingly insatiable discomfort which he uses everything from meditative walking to secretive intimate exploits to quell. His battle-ax of a teenage niece, ‘Becky,’ in both her persevering straightforwardness and pain, proves forcefully recalibrating. Sterling’s past, filled with a questionable acquittal and devastating divorce, proves empathetic fodder to Becky, too. Her own situation, centered on her suspension from school, involves a recent tragedy involving a girl with learning disabilities callously nicknamed “Slowgirl.” Slowgirl, who is Becky’s ‘friend,’ and the play’s namesake, proves the main source of tension underpinning the drama’s external and unseen “storm.” While the dialogue and interactions on the surface of the play take a serenely pedestrian, albeit engaging form, the Steppenwolf touches of unsettling psychological realism, socially engaged themes and meticulously vivacious acting don’t let the audience get away that easily. Arney and Pierce’s psychological hooks dig deeper into our minds as we dive into the tropical bastion till we are ripped in the shows final moments into a glimpse of the reality outside that awaits them. Everything can and does change in a moment, both for better and for worse. Although not without its flaws, Slowgirl is a resonant, captivating piece, and it is great to see this kind of work onstage in Los Angeles. For fearless theatergoers who love to be transported and to walk away from a show with a full head and an aching gut, a simmering masterpiece like Slowgirl may be worth the drive south.