Monday, March 18, 2013

Slowgirl at Hyde Park Theatre in Austin, TX

Recently while in Austin, Brendan and I jumped at the chance to catch a preview of the upcoming play, Slowgirl, at Hyde Park Theatre. We went in knowing nothing: we had never seen a show by Greg Pierce, and the only thing we knew about Slowgirl is that it had only been performed at one other theatre (off Broadway in NYC). However, we have seen many shows at HPT, so we trusted Slowgirl wouldn't disappoint. We were right: the show was incredible.

A week before opening, the jungle set was still being finished, but honestly, I could have watched Slowgirl with no set. Theater done well is totally transformative: the only thing that matters is what's going on between the two people on stage. Pierce has completely created a world and story that you just can't help but get caught up in. I won't give too much away, but here's the premise: an outgoing 17 year-old, Becky, visits her uncle Sterling in the jungles of Costa Rica, and slowly it is revealed that they are both seeking escape from the past (Becky's recent, Sterling's far past) in which they have unintentionally harmed others. The show sounds dark, and it is, but it is also hilarious. In the 86 minute performance, we were laughing out loud, cringing at some utterly awkward moments, and then also at times feeling devastated for these characters. I think this is a play about redemption, but not in the traditional way, because the outcomes are not simple. Rather, the show makes one think about the high price people pay for mistakes. In a world where our pasts are so accessible and defining, does one decision (or lack thereof) end up determining the course of our lives? Is this a world that still grants second chances?

The script behind Slowgirl is superb, but the actors on stage, Ken Webster as Sterling and Molly Karrasch as Becky, make the show what it is. Webster is subtle and understated as Sterling; concerned but completely unsure of how to show it, and out of his element with his niece he hasn't seen in many years. His social awkwardness is played perfectly and quiet, where it could be easy to over-do. Sterling takes on mostly a listening role in the production, but Webster manages to always have absolute presence while never distracting from Karrasch. His Uncle Sterling has a totally different look that the off Broadway counterpart, and I prefer Webster's version. He looks like one would after living out much of his past in a jungle. He always has that ability to transform for roles.

This was my first time seeing Molly Karrasch in a major role, and Brendan and I were both blown away. She is perfect for Becky and manages to be at once obnoxious and sympathetic, funny and disturbed. Karrasch has the perfect look for this role: she's wonderfully expressive and can gain a laugh without even speaking. Her posture and speech patterns are every bit 17, and Karrasch delivers as this character: you really believe she is just grasping the complexities of her and Sterling's situations enough to be able to articulate them as honestly as only a 17 year-old could. There are times she makes you feel mortified: partly because she reminds you of exactly what it was like to be this age, lack of filter and all.  She has great comedic timing and is completely unrestrained, a perfect counterpart to Webster's anxiety ridden and on-edge Sterling.

Here's how to see this production...

Hyde Park Theatre is located at 511 W. 43rd Street. You can reserve tickets by calling 512-479-PLAY.  The show starts at 8pm (every night of the run). I happen to know of a free preview on Wednesday, March 20th. Thursday's are pay what you can, and definitely Austin's best theatre deal. On Fridays/Saturdays(March 21 - April 13) tickets are $20 ($18 for students, seniors, military, and Austin Creative Alliance members). For the final two weekends (April 18 - 27) tickets are $22 ($20 for students, seniors, military, and Austin Creative Alliance members). 

If you are lucky enough to live in Austin, make an evening of this. Once you see a show at Hyde Park, you'll find yourself coming back. 

Here's to Slowgirl, which officially opens this Thursday (March 21st). Have fun in the jungle. 

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