A two-person play offers additional challenges to encaptivate, engage and entertain an audience, with increased pressure placed on both the stage talent and the depth and intrigue of the written words.
This summer, Steppenwolf's latest production makes it all seem so naturally easy and comfortable, while holding audiences' attention in the proverbial "palm of the hand" with Greg Pierce's hit play, "Slowgirl," which premiered at the Lincoln Center Theater in 2012.
Steppenwolf Theatre Company ensemble member and former artistic director Randall Arney returns to Chicago reunited with fellow ensemble member William Petersen (A face and name recognizable from the "CSI" TV series) in the role of Uncle Sterling. (The two first appeared on stage together in Steppenwolf's 1980 production of "Balm in Gilead.") Opposite Petersen is the hypnotic talent of Rae Gray playing his troubled niece Becky.
"Slowgirl" is a 90-minute fast-faced exchange that lets the audience wrestle with what's true or false contrasted with right and wrong under the haze of blame and escape.
Takeshi Kata provides a neatly, intricate scenic design for a bungalow tucked away in the jungle of Costa Rica which Petersen's character Sterling has adopted as his residence and retreat from society. A quick four-day visit from his teen niece unfolds into an examination of the conscious for both. While niece Becky is at the center of a horrific incident at her high school involving a classmate, with details still emerging, her uncle also has his own demons from the past and present he must confront.
The director, playwright and talent are all commended for achieving a level of unspoken discomfort that brews scene by scene, sandwiched between the surface talk of fruit smoothies, panther sightings, iguana encounters and the tropics that surround.
Janice Pytel has devised a costume design that fits to refined perfection while Daniel Ionazzi's lighting design and Richard Woodbury's sound design and original music transport all who look on from the audience to the deep, dark reaches of the imagination.
While there are some adult themes and brash language, "Slowgirl" remains a satisfying trip with no return ticket for initial perceptions of characters who aren't who they seem to be.
Tickets are $20 to $78 at (312) 335-1650 or steppenwolf.org. Free post-show discussions are offered after every performance and $10 parking is at the theater garage.