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Compelling, well-written, well-acted SLOWGIRL at Dobama

Roy Berko

(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)

On the surface, Greg Pierce’s SLOWGIRL, which is now on stage at Dobama, is the tale of a teenager who finds herself living a real-life nightmare and her confronting the issues with her reclusive uncle, who has problems of his own.

The tale begins as 17-year old Becky arrives at her Uncle Sterling’s Costa Rican isolated jungle home.  The duo has had little contact since she was a child.  We quickly become aware that she is uninhibited, somewhat rebellious and a nonstop talker.   He is inhibited and reclusive. Why is she there?  Why is he living alone in the jungle?

As their interactions roll out, it is revealed that Becky’s classmate has fallen from a second story window while attending a party.  The teenager was nicknamed “Slowgirl” by her classmates.  Was this moniker an act of bullying? Was the reason Slowgirl invited to the party an act of bad-girl cruelty?  Was the fall an accident?  Are the stories told to the police honest revelations?  Were the visual images captured on a cell phone video real?  Did Becky have a role in the fall?

As the duo gets better acquainted, incidents from Sterling’s past unfold and questions arise. He is divorced, but why?  What was the basis for conflicts with his law school friend and business partner?  Why is that friend now in jail? Did Sterling have any connection to the incarceration?   How did Sterling, who was involved in low-pay, non-profit work, get the money to buy the Puerto Rican property?  Is he “on the run” from US authorities?

Pierce is a fine storyteller.  He reveals one layer of information, then another, in a slow psychological striptease that allows for constant surprises.  He is the Gypsy Rose Lee of writers….revealing only enough at any one time to keep us interested and wanting more.

The dialogue is real.  It is not forced, stylized nor theatrical.  These are two conflicted people talking, learning about each other, showing their fault-lines and vulnerabilities.

The Dobama production, under the focused direction of Leighann Delorenzo, is compelling.  She has paced the show well.  In spite of the play being basically dialogue, with little physical action, there is no wavering of attention during the ninety-minute intermissionless production.

The two person cast is character-perfect.  Miranda Leann Scholl, a Baldwin Wallace psychology and theater student, physically fits the teenager roll.  She is Becky.  This is not a performance, this is a presentation of reality.  No acting here, just a series of reactions to ideas and the portrayal of a real person.  Scholl is impressive!

Christopher Bohan, a theatre professor at Case Western Reserve, is completely believable as the reclusive Sterling.  He quickly gives the impression of someone uncomfortable in his own skin, opening up the basis for his character development.  His performance is completely authentic, leaving little doubt that he is experiencing Sterling, not portraying him.

Scenic designer Laura Carlson Tarantowski has been placed in the position of creating two different performance areas in a small space.  She basically succeeds.  The jungle house is very effective, complete with the metal roof on which iguana’s romp, much to Becky’s angst.  The necessary realistic labyrinth, however, is not as successful.  The drawings of the path work well when they are on the theatre’s floor, but when they extend onto the deck of the house, the effect is somewhat lost due to overlapping of the spaces.

Marcus Dana’s lighting design sets just the right moods.  Jeremy Dobbins’ sound design, complete with parrot squawks and iguanas scurrying on the roof, are meaningful and realistic.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: SLOWGIRL is a well-written script that keeps you on the edge of your seat, waiting for what surprising revelation will reveal itself next.  Dobama’s production values enhance the text, resulting in a must-see evening of theatre.

SLOWGIRL runs through February 15, 2015 at Dobama Theatre.  Call 216-932-3396 or for tickets.