Greg Pierce’s Slowgirl, the inaugural production upstairs at Lincoln Center’s ultra-chic Claire Tow Theater, bears significant resemblances to Amy Herzog’s 4000 Miles, downstairs at the Mitzi Newhouse. Both were produced under the LCT3 New Artists New Audiences initiative. Each depicts a traumatized youth who shows up on an older relative’s doorstep with fresh wounds from an upsetting story. Pierce’s garrulous 17-year-old Becky (Sarah Steele) has illegally fled to the Costa Rican jungle treehouse (Rachel Hauck’s jaw-dropping set) of her uncle Sterling (Zeljko Ivanek). She lies low, waiting to find out whether the comatose developmentally disabled girl (of the title) whom she’s accused of letting fall out a window during a wild party back home will die. Meaning the charges against Becky will become more severe.
Both Pierce and Herzog have mastered quirky, finely detailed character development, one of Slowgirl’s many pleasures. Becky’s filterless overshares recall Herzog’s elderly Vera in some ways. She blabs about her one lesbian experience, freaks out comparing coconut sweetener to semen. At first Sterling seems like her repressed foil, but gradually the two connect—they’re both dishonest misanthropes. Becky discovers that Sterling’s getting blown by his married housekeeper and that he fled the U.S.A. to avoid a fraud scandal. As in 4000 Miles, the two get stoned together. Director Anne Kaufman of the Civilians elicits an impressive performance from Steele.
Pierce, however, has more Brecht in his soul than Herzog. These characters aren’t morally complex so much as morally bankrupt, and once they reveal the truth about themselves, they become objects of inquisition and judgment rather than sympathy. Ivanek’s rough, squealy voice lends Sterling additional unseemliness. Becky cries big tears, but she’s still a guilty liar. “It’s okay if you’re a crook,” the mishandler of disabled girls tells the scam artist. Uh, excuse me Becky, it’s like, not okay.