BWW Review: MKE Chamber Theatre's SLOWGIRL Captures Intergenerational Compassion

Photo Credit; Paul Ruffolo

Dream of visiting Costa Rica's lush jungles and warm climate this winter? Milwaukee Chamber Theatre (MCT) imports Costa Rica to the Studio Theatre at the Broadway Theatre Center in their intergenerational production Slowgirl. Directed by C. Michael Wright, and dedicated to his own niece, playwright Greg Pierce's 2012 character study places two societal runaways, an older uncle and his rarely seen teenage niece, in the dry rainforests of Central America.

The uncle, Sterling, has been hiding in his jungle retreat since a business venture and marriage failed seven years ago. At his sister's request, he welcomes his 17 year old niece Becky to a week in his tin roofed house while she escapes from a harrowing, life changing event. Peter Reeves skillfully and subtly embodies Sterling, who struggles with his niece's lifestyle and accepts her without being critical or demanding. This includes imbibing rum with their afternoon fruit smoothies while relaxing in Keith Pitts's clever vision of a primitive Costa Rican hideaway.

As a former Milwaukee Rep Emerging Theater Professional, Sara Zientek's Becky straddles the emotions between a stoned valley girl and a frightened young women finally questioning her high school lifestyle and the subsequent, if unintended, consequences. Although somehow, the audience might also question her attitudes and decisions at 17, too. Paired together, Reeves and Zientek, create a compelling chemistry to cement their quiet character development as the two bond, begin to trust, and understand each other as developed in the performance..

In Pierce's Slowgirl, his title could inspire two meanings. One, Slow girl names a person with some mental challenges invited to a party that Becky recently attended. A party where too many jello shots laced with vodka were consumed by all involved at the gathering when parents had left the city. No one at the party questioned the behavior or showed the foresight to comprehend what could possibly happen to someone like Slowgirl, actually named Mary Beth, experiencing alcohol or jello shots for the first time. If indeed Mary Beth even knew they were other than innocent jello squares that jiggled from childhood. Zientek gradually releases these conflicting decisions and desires regarding the party and the tragic events over the week's time, showing the audience she needs to accept her responsibility.

While uncle and niece eventually confide in each other, travel a primitive labyrinth together constructed by Sterling, each person acquires an semblance of peace. The only the peace the play's finale hints at will be that Sterling sees his support of Becky essential in the road ahead, whatever trials come their way.

While the circumstances of these two lives reveal themselves slowly over the no intermission evening, Becky perhaps transforms into another type of "slowgirl"-- a young woman finally faced with taking time to consider her present choices and chances to move forward from her previously fast-paced high school life. While untold and often dangerous pressures face young people today, Becky relates her multiple sexual escapades, failures in school, dabbles in alcohol and drugs without actually stopping to understand the reasons or her decisions along the way, which the Costa Rican escape and the labyrinth provide her.

Unfortunately, Becky's high school scenarios ring too true off stage. Contemporary children taste their first alcohol at age ten, can download internet access to sexual information, innuendo and predators unless prevented by an older adult, might contract HIV, STI 's and STD'S at an alarming rate, and live vicariously on tablets and iPhones, whether listening to music or playing video games.

Today heroin can be easily purchased for $10.00 a hit accompanied by a clean needle, yet the purchase remains unstable to what the actual drug may be laced with. Heroin acts as only one drug, temptation, and excludes painkillers usually prescribed to injured teenage athletes who desire to keep playing high school sports, or anti-depressants that relieve the pressures to achieve, or alcohol merely be in sync with their friends downing jello shots (sometimes disguised in school lunches) to give young people alternative escapes and highs. In one state alone, the 2016 statistics report there have been ten heroin related overdoses to date, and these numbers omit deaths from alcohol, cocaine, anti-depressants, meth, painkillers and suicides, or any combination of these diversions from reality.

What a difficult world for Sterling and Becky to navigate, alone or together. Secluded in a vibrant green jungle where exotic parrots visit the trees can be supremely inviting amid the lightening quick world where technology changes within mere months instead of years and perhaps even one important text can damage a person's psyche. No wonder when their brief week ends, Sterling and Becky rethink their previous decisions and discover a compassion for each other, their trials now faced together alongside their family or friends.

MCT's compelling and contemporary Slowgirl challenges audiences to consider the younger generation, or if sitting in the audience, a young adult's modern lifestyle, and what their place in the future may be when growing up and growing older, whether in Costa Rica or Milwaukee and anywhere in between. Enjoy this sensitive, valuable dual portrait of an uncle and niece where generations learn to understand and love each other. For one evening at the theater, slow down and think about how to encourage the young people, or any individual met over the next few months, through one special smile, a positive word or listening with an open heart that might suddenly change the course of events for a person of any generation.

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre presents Slowgirl at the Studio Theatre in the Broadway Theatre Center through March 20. For special events, performance schedule, tickets for the 2016-2017 season or current ticket information, please call: 414.291.7800 or

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From This Author Peggy Sue Dunigan