‘Slowgirl’ at Onstage Playhouse Focuses on Family Dynamics Amid Legal and Other Troubles
Greg Pierce’s play, Slowgirl, was selected to open the Claire Tow Theatre, which sits atop the Vivian Beaumont Theatre, in New York’s Lincoln Center. It’s a two-hander that explores family dynamics during a period of crisis for each character. The space requirements for the play seem an ideal fit for the intimate Onstage Playhouse in Chula Vista. Would that the storytelling had also been such a good fit.
Sterling (Jason Heil) lives in a hand-built compound located between the villages of Los Angeles and San Francisco in Costa Rica. He has become something of a hermit, except that he employs a couple of locals to help him. It would be unusual for him to have visitors from out of the area.
Such a visitor arrives, however, as the play opens. Her name is Becky (Ava Smithmier), and she is Sterling’s niece. It is clear from the start that Becky has traveled there because of a traumatic incident.
It doesn’t take long for Becky to start pouring out the details of the incident, which occurred at a party attended by classmates, including a learning-disabled young woman named Marybeth but nicknamed Slowgirl. There was an accident, and Marybeth was injured. It seems clear that Becky has gone to visit her uncle until the incident blows over at home.
As it turns out, Sterling is where he is because he was also involved in an episode that had traumatic consequences. Family tensions have resulted, and Sterling clearly believes that living far away will allow the tensions to ease – out of sight, out of mind. Mr. Heil reveals Sterling’s family and professional issues bit by bit with no hint of anger and maybe a small hint of grief. It is the sort of fine portrayal that I’ve come to expect from one of the stalwarts of San Diego’s acting community.
So, Sterling and Becky are in Costa Rica for similar reasons. Of course, Sterling is used to his surroundings, and Becky is not, which adds to Becky’s anxiety, and which manifests in a torrent of teenaged speech. Here’s the problem: Becky is supposed to talk rapidly, but Ms. Smithmier’s “rapidly” resulted in difficulties, for me, at least, in following what she was actually saying. As a result, I left the theatre unsure of what happened, at least from Becky’s point of view. Fortunately, the theatre graciously provided a copy of the script. I ask theatres for copies of scripts frequently, usually to be able to quote from the dialogue accurately, or to understand a plot point I missed. In this case, however, I was trying to understand a good portion of one character’s speech.
The physical production provides several playing spaces, including a sleeping space with a hammock, a living space with an area that allows for privacy, and a space where Sterling has laid out a labyrinth, which can be walked for meditation purposes (Anthony Garcia was responsible for the set design; Kevin “Blax” Burroughs designed the lighting). Estefania Ricalde provided a number of animal sounds that served to increase Becky’s anxiety. Brad Dubois designed the costumes.
I am uncertain about how Onstage Playhouse Executive Artistic Director James P. Darvas might have dealt with the difficulties hearing and understanding Ms. Smithmier, but I saw what I believe was the first public performance, so perhaps the problems I encountered have been alleviated with directorial coaching.
The show runs until April 2, 2023.
Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm, in downtown Chula Vista. Street parking is available – check posted signs for hours of the parking meters.
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