“Slowgirl” at Seattle Public Theater

Could there be two more dissimilar characters? There’s Sterling, the laconic, middle-aged American lawyer who’s chosen to remove himself from life as he knew it and establish an isolated, tranquil homestead in the Costa Rican jungle. Then there’s Becky, his hyper, teenaged niece who stumbles into his world to escape for a week from something terribly unsavory back home in the United States.

Gradually, as they fumble around and make adjustments to one another, they slowly reveal their stories, and you the audience are drawn deeper and deeper into this play and all the moral issues it raises. Both characters have a backstory; both have to deal with questions of guilt and accountability.

Under Kelly Kitchens careful direction the two characters slowly peel away the protective layers they’ve built around themselves. They do it on Andrea Bush’s impressionistic Rousseau-like set where the ambiance is enhanced by subtle lighting (Tristan Roberson) and eerie sound (Evan Mosher and Andre Nelson).

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Kevin McKeon as Sterling and Hannah Mootz as Becky. Photo by Steven Sterne Photography.

The acting by Kevin McKeon and Hannah Mootz is stunning. McKeon masterfully creates the laid back, contemplative uncle. He’s welcoming to the unanticipated dynamo but senses there’s something terribly troubling behind her unexpected visit. Mootz personifies the somewhat clueless, insensitive, self-absorbed, and emotionally volatile teenager. She has every gesture, every toss of the head, inappropriate question, flippant response that so often typifies that age.

As their stories are revealed we learn why Sterling has chosen this isolation. His new life suits him. He reads and studies the wildlife. He’s made a labyrinth in a clearing, and, like the monks of old, gains emotional calm, as he follows its path.

Dense little Becky finds his life unimaginable. Practically her first words express horror at his accommodations “You LIVE in the jungle?” She’s horrified to see her uncle’s house has no doors. “Anything could come in?” Yet her discomfort dissipates and she adjusts to this strange new world.

Slowly she discloses the reason for her visit. Something terrible happened to a girl she and all her friends call “Slowgirl.” It was at a party, and Becky didn’t even realize they invited Slowgirl. “Slowgirl has Downs syndrome or something.” Like one of those jungle snakes Becky’s so afraid of, the full story of Slowgirl and the party gradually slithers into the peaceful space that is Uncle Sterling’s home. For both of them, life has changed.

Playwright Greg Pierce has created a tight and compelling work, but best of all, he’s brilliantly captured teen-speak. Listening to Mootz in this role is sheer delight.

Through April 12 at Seattle Public Theater at the Bathhouse, 7312 W. Greenlake Dr. N., Seattle, (206 524-1300 or www.seattlepublictheater.org).

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