As Monica Lewinsky and Amanda Knox have incidents in their youth that will shadow their lives forever, so too does Becky, the flashier half of Greg Pierce’s poignant two-hander about a mouthy 17-year-old who visits her uncle in Costa Rica after a recent tragedy. Slowgirl denotes Mary Beth, Becky’s mentally challenged classmate, who fell out a window at a drunken high-school party. Becky may share some blame for that, and she’s not the only one wrestling with her conscience. Her apparently benign, geeky Uncle Sterling has some secrets of his own.
SPT’s intimate performance space lends itself perfectly to being a claustrophobic jungle hideaway. Designer Andrea Bush encloses the rustic hut with tangled vines suggesting invasive eyes prying at Becky and Sterling, two souls fleeing scrutiny; Bush also effectively jacks up part of the set like a public stockade. Everything about this small jewel of a production—directed by Kelly Kitchens—feels right, from terrific casting and acting to moody, canopy-filtered lighting (by Tristan Roberson) to Pierce’s strong, naturalistic 2012 script.
Any time Hannah Mootz (Bo-Nita) plays a troubled young person is an occasion to celebrate. Her Becky teeters between Lolita-hood and adulthood, in awkward semi-possession of her own body, as though test-driving it. Sometimes a bulldozer, sometimes gentle, she describes the rain forest (without irony) as “ass-fuck beautiful,” fears rape by iguana, and frets to Sterling, “You probably think I’m a total Unabomber.” Kevin McKeon, who excels at making quiet men interesting, provides a satisfying comedic foil to Becky’s rampant emotionalism as they uncover their respective shame sources. Watching his depressive Sterling come to life is one of the show’s subtle pleasures.
Slowgirl ’s compassionate portrait of people who, regardless of their courtroom guilt or innocence, made some terrible decisions, feels very much of our moment. Most of us have had a “slowgirl” in our past—someone whom, however momentarily, we did not treat kindly. If we were lucky, our victim survived whatever cruelty we inflicted, so that we might later apologize—or more. To merely villainize bullies doesn’t accomplish much, or say anything we haven’t heard a thousand times before. Slowgirl dwells in the more ambiguous zone of dispassionate moral scrutiny, a place where one’s past sins can be addressed and forgiven.
SLOWGIRL Seattle Public Theater at the Bathhouse, 7312 W. Greenlake Dr. N., 524-1300, seattlepublictheater.org. $5–$32. 7:30 p.m. Thurs.–Sat., 2 p.m. Sun. Ends April 12.