Seventeen-year-old Becky is in real trouble, so much trouble that her mother has sent her to hide out for a week at her reclusive uncle's Costa Rica retreat. It seems that Becky has been blamed for the death of a learning disabled schoolmate and is likely to be arrested and sent to prison. She has already been ostracized by her friends and expelled from school. Like many adolescents, Becky fears silence. If she can't have some electronic noise plugged into her ears, she has to talk. Uncle Sterling, who is in self-imposed exile after being acquitted of misappropriation of funds at his law firm (his partner went to jail) and losing his marriage, lives pretty much in silence. Cut off from most people, he isn't used to talking and seldom finishes a sentence. Over the one-hundred minutes of Greg Pierce's play SLOWGIRL, the first production in the new Claire Tow Theater, built on the roof of the Lincoln Center Theater, Becky admits responsibility for her actions and Sterling takes some responsibility for the fate of another human being.
In many ways, SLOWGIRL is very similar to Amy Herzog's 4000 MILES, which has been playing downstairs at the Mitzi Newhouse Theatre. There, too, a troubled young person dealing with the tragic loss of a friend, comes to stay with an older relative. 4000 MILES is about both the possibility and the limits of human connection. Above all, I found SLOWGIRL to be a vivid, if frightening picture of contemporary adolescence. As we left the theater, I said to my spouse, "The play is an argument for increased supervision of teenagers." At seventeen, Becky is already a sexually active drinker and pot smoker though she has a limited sense of responsibility for her actions. She still thinks like a child, though she is given adult freedoms. Her language (beautifully captured by Pierce) is uncensored and peppered with obscenity (she describes her uncle's coconut syrup as looking like cum), half baked judgments and questions. Her ethical sense is undeveloped, but so is her uncle's. Sterling accepts no responsibility for the criminal actions of his law partner, but admits that he never questioned the suspiciously large amounts of money that were flowing into his bank account. In a way, his Costa Rican exile is a self-imposed imprisonment.
Sterling brings Becky to a labyrinth, a mountaintop recreation of the stone floor of a famous cathedral, where one walks the patterns on the floor either for meditation or one follows them on one's knees for penance. "I wouldn't recommend that," Sterling says. Clearly he has sought penance. The labyrinth becomes a symbol for the ethical mazes individuals must travel through, the difficulty of finding penance in our secular society, and the importance of some link with the spiritual.
SLOWGIRL is another beautifully written, absorbing small-scale play that is more than the sum of its parts. Annie Kaufman has directed it deftly within Rachel Hauck's lovely, suggestive setting. Sarah Steele captures Becky's vulnerability and bravado. We have to feel how irritating Becky can be as well as the childlike qualities that can be endearing and destructive. Against her explosion of language, Zeljko Ivanek captures a man who has tried to push away painful feelings of guilt and loss. Sterling is a man of few words -- he seldom finishes a sentence -- but Ivanek, though facial expression and body language, shows us how much is simmering under the surface.
The new 120 seat Claire Tow Theater is a gem. One rides new elevators up from the entrance area of the Lincoln Center Theater to a spacious lobby that is all glass on one side. Patrons can step out onto a wooden rooftop deck to look out over Lincoln Center. The rest of the roof is "green", planted with flowering vegetation. The auditorium is small without being the least bit claustrophobic. And there's lots of legroom. Seats for the LCT3 presentations at the Claire Tow are only $20, So Lincoln Center is joining the ranks of New York non-profits who are offering great theater at affordable prices.
SLOWGIRL by Greg Pierce, directed by Annie Kauffman. Claire Tow Theater, Lincoln Center Theater. July 2, 2012.