Playwright Greg Pierce could’ve written “Slowgirl” as a straightforward, “from the headlines” play about bullying in which all characters are present, the situation plays out in front of us and the tragic consequences revealed. Such a play could result in powerful theater, leading us to action.
But Pierce is aiming for something deeper here.
In his deceptively simple, unpredictable, meaty two-character play, running on Dobama Theatre’s intimate thrust stage through Feb. 15, Pierce has penned an original, discussion- and thought-provoking, riveting piece of theater.
It never comes across as preachy or sentimental, offers no easy answers and allows us to listen to and try to see things from the point of view of perpetrators. It’s something, perhaps, we need to do more often to curb situations that end up tragically.
“Slowgirl’s” a play that brings together two people whose actions before they meet have hurt individuals — or worse. The two are forced to be honest with themselves and each other about what they’ve done.
“Slowgirl” asks us to ponder whether a single action of ours can forever blemish our character...just as the unforgiving Javert in “Les Miserables” and the people of Puritanical New England in “The Scarlet Letter” believe. Can that single act forever turn us into a beast — like the ones that live in the jungle where the play is set?
It makes for good, productive fodder for discussion at the dinner table.
The time period isn’t specific; we’re led to believe it’s the present day.
In 17-year-old Becky’s case, Pierce holds a microscope up to that sometimes fuzzy line between guilt and innocence when it comes to bullying. When does trying to make an outcast happy cross the line?
In Becky’s uncle, Sterling’s case, he and a fellow attorney were in the middle of an incident in which money meant to compensate victims ended up in the wrong place. Others were convicted of a crime, Sterling was acquitted, but his brother-in-law continues to call him a “crook.”
The play opens with Becky having been sent to her uncle’s door-less dwelling in the jungle of Costa Rica (artfully, yet simply designed by Laura Carlson Tarantowski. It’s not exactly a bare bones shack, more like a poor man’s cabin with some amenities on which to survive).
We see the setting as we walk into the theater, drawing us immediately into this world with soft, night-time sounds that make this place seem deceptively a haven. The dwelling is surrounded with vegetation and nearby stones to indicate a labyrinth, where Sterling meditates to “his” God.
But the jungle is filled with the unpredictable, unknown and even scary. Is this really the place to escape from looking yourself in the mirror and facing consequences? Or is the setting something of a “wake up call?”
Startling sounds stemming from an animal atop Sterling’s roof and the disclosure that someone was killed by a snake are significant — it’s as though the sounds and the announcement are reminders, especially for Becky, of what took place back home; there’s no escaping it, even in the remote Central American jungle.
The fact that Sterling’s “home” is door-less during this dry season when the play takes place adds to the sense of inescapability. Sterling tells her he supposes that animals can just saunter in.
This taut, well-constructed play slowly builds to a climax that forces Becky to reveal what really took place at the party she attended with the teen nicknamed “Slowgirl.”
The characters’ interactions are captivating from the start and never become dull. They shift frequently in mood, keeping our attention as the two converse in, at various times, a friendly, humorous, tense, argumentative, exasperated, somber and playful manner while managing to annoy and infuriate one another.
In Pierce’s stage directions, he notes the play begins with an out-of-her-element, hesitant Becky trying, gently at first, to awaken her uncle.
But in Dobama Theatre’s riveting, beautifully acted production, director Leighann Delorenzo, who ensures contrast exists between the characters, has Becky get into her uncle’s face and enthusiastically rouse him from his slumber. This immediately establishes Becky’s character as a fearless, impulsive teenager who’s the most outgoing, popular student in her school and likely the most talkative and fastest talker.
But Becky isn’t perfect (who is?) She doesn’t think; something enters her brain and she blurts it out in a heartbeat. She’s dishonest with Sterling and is prone to preconceived notions. But is she a bully who relishes in belittling and injuring those less popular?
If so, does her time spent with the hermetic, odd Sterling an exercise in sensitivity training?
In a marvelous performance that screams she has a bright acting future, Miranda LeeAnn Scholl, a college student who could pass for a high schooler, has seamlessly transformed into Becky.
One can’t help but marvel at how she talks almost without pausing to breath, yet the words, emotions and gestures flow naturally. The performance never feels rushed or forced and Scholl deftly captures the speech of a kind of drama queen, with her sometimes sing-songy, high pitched cadence.
Scholl, who displays boundless energy, seems equally comfortable and convincing playing a vivacious, cheerful teen as she does playing a vulnerable, frightened one. When it comes time for Becky to cry, the sobs sound as real as though the actor just learned about the death of a close relative.
Christopher Bohan, his hands pressed into his pockets at times, captures the uncle’s awkwardness, charm, frustration and caring nature with equal ease. There’s a tension inherent in Bohan’s Sterling that suggests he’s not used to communicating with folks for an extended period of time. But as his bond with his niece grows, his concern for her is heartfelt.
These are two very different people who need each other.
At the play’s end, Sterling insists on accompanying his niece back to the States to support her....where his brother-in-law will most likely still call him crooked.
The show ends as niece and uncle venture out to explore the animals on Sterling’s land.
The conclusion can symbolize the fact the two plan to face their consequences...ironically thanks to their time spent together at what seems like the perfect getaway location.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday as well as 2:30 p.m. Sunday through Feb. 15.
WHERE: Dobama Theatre, 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights
HOW MUCH: $25-$28. Senior and student discounts are available.
For more information, call 216-932-3396 or visit www.dobama.org.