The Lincoln Center 3 series has been offering new writers an introduction via a series of productions at its Laura Pels Theatre underground at the Lincoln Center Theatre complex. But the long awaited Claire Tow Theatre atop the Beaumont has now been completed, and its first entry is a complete success.
Greg Pierce, the author of Slowgirl, is reasonably new on the scene, though he had another project at the Vineyard recently. That one was a lab production of The Landing, the first musical written with John Kander since the death of Kander’s lifelong lyricist partner Fred Ebb. As a work-in-progress, reviews were not welcome, but it did bring attention to Mr. Pierce, who is perhaps 50 years Mr. Kander’s junior.
I knew nothing of Slowgirl before seeing a mid-run preview, and before I get to the play itself, I must tell you that the Claire Tow is a warm and welcome home, a magnificent addition to the beautifully refurbished Lincoln Center complex. Off the theatre’s lobby is a wooden terrace overlooking the fountain, plaza and other buildings, and it is bordered by a refreshing field of decorative greenery. It’s quiet up there too, which makes it a perfect retreat from the surrounding mid city action.
Mr. Pierce has written a one act play in four scenes, occurring on four days during a week in which a seventeen year old girl comes to visit her reclusive uncle at his modest home in the middle of a forest (she calls it a “jungle”) in Costa Rica.
The two-character play strips away at these two disparate people who have more in common than their initial meeting suggests. The girl, (Becky) is played with astonishing honesty by Sarah Steele, new to me, but something of a revelation. Becky is wise beyond her seventeen years, and admits that if she feels something, she talks about it, which does not make her the most tranquil or personable person in the room. Her Uncle Sterling has come to this remote spot in Central America so that he can escape into a contemplative life that is acceptable to him, and preferable to the one he lived back in the States where, though acquitted of any wrongdoing, he has guilt about his compliance in a crime committed by his business partner, for which the partner was sent to jail. The peeling away of half truths and outright lies are the stuff of which this fine drama, laced with vibrant humor, is concocted.
Uncle Sterling is played with consummate skill by Zeljko Ivanek, whose work goes back to Cloud 9 in which he earned the Drama Desk Award for best featured actor in 1981. Always an interesting actor, Mr. Ivanek, with his quiet ways, his mid-sentence pauses, his character’s decency prodded and poked by his inquisitive and confrontational niece, is tremendously effective, and beautifully balanced in this dance of what could have been death.
But this is not Strindberg, it is Pierce (who incidentally is in real life nephew to Uncle David Hyde Pierce, the very fine actor, who may or not incidentally be perfect for the role of Uncle Sterling.) Hyde Pierce even physically resembles Ivanek, so it did occur to me that maybe this play had its origins within the Pierce family — but if so it makes young Pierce’s accomplishment no less impressive for these are only the most superficial coincidences.
Anne Kaufman, who staged the LCT3 production of Stunning, which I did not see, is back and in top form with Slowgirl. If future offerings match this one in quality and originality, the Claire Tow will indeed be a most valuable addition to New York Theatre.
Considering the quality of the four nominees for this year’s Best Play Tony Awards, all four of which began life in theatres like this one off-Broadway, there is more and more evidence that the fabulous invalid is recovering. Now if we could only get producers with the imagination and courage of André Bishop and Bernard Gersten at LincolnCenter to exercise those qualities in the discovery and development of original American musicals, we’d be king of the hill once again.
Slowgirl runs thru July 15, 2012 at Lincoln Center Theater – Claire Tow Theater, 150 West 65th Street (Between Broadway and Amsterdam), NYC. Tickets are $20.
Details and tickets
Richard Seff, who, in his career on Broadway has been a performer, agent, writer, and librettist, has written the book for Shine! The Horatio Alger Musical!, which debuted at the 2010 New York Musical Theatre Festival. He is also author of Supporting Player: My Life Upon the Wicked Stage, celebrating his lifetime on stage and behind the scenes, available through online booksellers, including Amazon.com. Read more at RichardSeff.com
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