As I entered Steppenwolf Upstairs Theatre, my first thought was that I was in the wrong place. It looked so different than the way I remembered. This was the first time I saw the newly reconfigured, intimate space. It was, however, the perfect setting for Greg Pierce’s play, Slowgirl, now playing there. Slowgirl was a hit when it premiered at New York’s Lincoln Center Theater in 2012. Before coming to Steppenwolf it also played at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles, where Randall Arney, who is directing this production, currently serves as artistic director. Arney, is a Steppenwolf ensemble member—and former artistic director. This intimate two-character play features Rae Gray as Becky and William Petersen as her uncle, Sterling. Their portrayal of these characters was captivating and compelling.
As a playwright (though he is also a lyricist and a fiction writer), Greg Pierce tends to build suspense, which is released through laughs and grabs your attention with life-or-death stakes, and in Slowgirl all of this is true. Becky (Gray), is a provocative, impulsive seventeen year old sent to stay with her mother’s brother, the reclusive uncle Sterling (Petersen) in the Costa Rican jungle. She has been involved in something terrible and is here to in order to avoid serious repercussions that await her in a few days.
Becky has not seen Sterling since she was nine but she remembers his visit to her home very well. Now he lives in the jungle-with no walls. She does not stop talking and is provocative and abrasive. He is isolated except for two people who work for him. Gradually, their interactions become less distanced and awkward. Slowly, as layers are removed, we learn about each of them. Sterling had a mysterious and terrible situation that drove him into isolation. And now Becky is struggling with the truth of “Slowgirl”, Mary Beth. What really happened at the party? What did Becky do, really? As Sterling and Becky learn about one another and care about one another they gain the strength to own what they have done and move forward.
The powerful acting was riveting and made ninety minutes vanish was enhanced by the scenic design (Takeshi Kata), costume design (Janice Pytel), lighting design (Daniel Ionazzi) and especially the sound design and original music (Richard Woodbury). Additional credits include: Erica Daniels (casting), Laura D. Glenn (stage manager) and Brianna Perry (production assistant). This play was so moving and intense that the characters stayed with me for several days. Go see it.
I found it interesting that: “The new Upstairs Theatre configuration was designed by Morris Architect Planners, the architectural firm of the current Steppenwolf Theatre Company facility. The newly refurbished theatre is a 300-seat proscenium facility with the same comfortable, upholstered seats found in the Downstairs Theatre. The focus of the stage and intimacy of the space will serve plays produced Upstairs in a different way than is possible in the Downstairs Theatre. This new theatre will serve not only the subscription series, but also some of the Steppenwolf for Young Adults productions, the Traffic Series and productions of our popular Visiting Companies Initiative. We expect this new theatre will play an increasingly important role in showcasing and supporting the diversity of Steppenwolf’s presentations.”
Tickets to Slowgirl ($20 – $78) are currently on sale through Audience Services (1650 N Halsted St), 312-335-1650 and steppenwolf.org. 20 for $20: twenty $20 tickets are available through Audience Services beginning at 11am on the day of each performance (1pm for Sunday performances). Rush Tickets: half-price rush tickets are available one hour before each show. Student Discounts: a limited number of $15 student tickets are available online using promo code “SLOWGIRL15”. Limit 2 tickets per student; must present a valid student ID for each ticket. For additional student discounts, visit Group Tickets: all groups of 10 or more receive a discounted rate for any performance throughout the season. For additional information, visit
Free post-show discussionsare offered after every performance in the Subscription Season. Steppenwolf is located near all forms of public transportation and is wheelchair accessible. Street and lot parking are available. Assistive listening devices and large-print programs are available for every performance.
Photos: Michael Brosilow