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Welcome to Slowgirl

by Steppenwolf Artistic Director Martha Lavey

I love plays of any scale—I love big, sprawling work that travels through time, and domestic dramas in the confines of home, and fantastical imaginings in fractured worlds, and I love two-character dramas in a single place. Each has its pleasures. One of the particular pleasures of a two-character drama is that inevitably, the playwright gives us two characters and impresses us with their differences. For the play to be dramatic, we feel, fairly early on, a conflict brewing. But the larger design of a two-character drama is to understand that beyond the conflict, the meeting of these two characters is inevitable. We begin to see how they need one another to resolve the conflict that lies in both of their hearts. We see their conflict and we see how, in the conflict, they become each other’s mirror. And so it is with Slowgirl. Becky, a 17- year high school student, travels to Costa Rica, seeking refuge in the forest enclave of her maternal uncle, Sterling. She’s in trouble: a terrible accident at a party she attended has ensnared her. The police are investigating how a fellow student, Mary Beth (the “slowgirl” of the title) leapt, fell (or was pushed?) from a second floor window. Becky is being questioned about her whereabouts at the party at the time of the accident. Sterling has been living in Costa Rica, in solitude, save for the couple who attend his house and land. It’s a meditative life— he’s built a labyrinth on his land that he walks daily. His life looks calm, quiet and self-aware. When Becky blows into the room, she can’t stop talking. If she isn’t talking, she’s plugged into her iPod, or grabbing at her phone, frustrated by the lack of cell service. She wants rum in her smoothie, she wants escape, and she is unsettled by the sounds of nature, fearful of what’s out there. She appears utterly un-self-aware. Over the course of the play, the history of both characters is revealed. Becky is not polite—she questions Sterling about his life in Costa Rica and about his life prior to his time there. Her own turbulence sends ripples through his calm. At some moment, we shift our attention from how Becky’s turbulence is a cover for her anxiety to how Sterling’s calm is a cover for his own internal turbulence. Both Becky and Sterling have profound questions about choices they have made in their lives and both harbor feelings of guilt and shame. They’ve each adopted behaviors to cover that shame and to keep them from confronting the secrets that live in their hearts. The beauty of a play is that the playwright can find two unlikely people, put them in a room together, and allow them to wrestle with the conflict that was, finally, always their own. What I love about a two-character play structured in this manner is that we are the third element. We are the third mirror. We watch this pair struggle with their own drama, we watch them find each other, and there we are, seeing ourselves in both. My guess is that we all of us harbor some degree of shame or guilt or regret about some action of our earlier life (because that’s what growing up means). How do we gain forgiveness? How do we forgive ourselves? I think Slowgirl would suggest that our great release is in the compassionate witness of another. When we stop hiding out, as Sterling does, as Becky does, we re-enter the world. -Steppenwolf Artistic Director Martha Lavey