Tuesday, March 31, 2015

"Slowgirl" at SPT is slow to leave your thoughts (in a good way)

Kevin McKeon and Hannah Mootz in Slowgirl (Steven Sterne)

Seattle Public Theater
Through April 12, 2015

Some plays stay with you a long time. Such is the effect of Seattle Public Theater’s presentation of Slowgirl by Greg Pierce. The story unfolds without urgency, as 17 year-old Becky arrives in Costa Rica to visit her uncle where he lives in a remote jungle hideaway.

Becky (Hannah Mootz) has diarrhea of the mouth, motormouthing through her uncle Sterling’s reactions (Kevin McKeon) and disturbing his peace. We can tell this because everything she moves he moves back. She is very much a city girl, and when she finds out the cabin has no doors and any animal is free to enter, she’s aghast.

Over the course of the 90 minute play, we find out more about the family and the circumstances that Becky finds herself in. Becky is in trouble. A house party full of schoolmates included the "slow" girl classmate that they all make fun of. They call her, “Slowgirl,” as if it is her name.
This young woman jumped out a window at the party and landed on concrete and is in the hospital. Becky feels like she is unfairly targeted for blame. Sterling sister, Becky’s mom, has sent Becky to her uncle for a few days. Sterling has been an absentee uncle and hasn’t seen Becky or her sister for years. So, this is an uneasy family reunion. Becky longs to be believed and thinks everyone is only saying they know she wasn’t responsible, but they really think she is.

It’s definitely not a stereotypical framework. The location is interesting (with a lovely set mainly of wooden hut-like support beams and a large cut backdrop of lush greens by Andrea Bush). The characters are unique. Sterling has an interesting story to tell about his own life, and Becky is a very advanced teen, with a lot of freedom to talk about sex and other taboo subjects without reticence.

Pierce does a great job of creating a modern young teen girl for the most part (there are a few moments that might take you out of your suspension of disbelief, but very few). Becky is very plausible. Her adjustment to the jungle and her uncle is believable.  She is sometimes not very nice to her uncle, which is also somewhat unexpected.

McKeon is a master of quiet roles, brooding men who don’t ever blurt out what they’re feeling. He just portrayed a similar role in SPT’s Humble Boy. His lack of conversation makes him a mystery we want to know more about. A scene where Becky dissects his motivations is very revealing and interesting, with the added effect that we don’t actually know what we’ve learned about him. We can never really know Sterling; we can just see what he does. He is constantly surprising, therefore.

Kelly Kitchens directs with a solid sense of scenic unfolding. The play seems to be mostly about their relationship for most of it, until the very end. At that point, a climactic revelation changes everything we thought we knew, and brings us back to the precipitating event with the disabled classmate.

The script smartly ends the play there and we are left wondering what will happen after. And that’s one reason it lingers and haunts. But we have witnessed a profound change in their relationship which is very satisfying.

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