Greg Pierce’s quietly compelling 2012 two-hander “Slowgirl,” a contemporary tale of reunion and redemption, has received a terrific local premiere at the Dayton Theatre Guild.
Delicately directed by Rick Flynn, this character study examines the loving yet stained relationship between retired lawyer Sterling (Peter Wallace) and his 17-year-old niece Becky (Jenna Gomes). The relatively content Sterling moved to the tiny town of Los Angeles, Costa Rica following his divorce and a highly publicized bad business deal. He is unexpectedly thrust into parental mode when Becky, suspended from school, arrives at his quaint bungalow (attractively designed by Wendi Michael and evocatively lit by Jadon Bischoff) seeking solace having been at the center of a tragedy with her classmates. Sterling’s wisdom and Becky’s obliviousness predictably clash within the context of the generation gap, but as their differences evolve into similarities common ground is formed with palpable introspection.
The awkward title refers to the nickname insensitive Becky and her foolish friends gave to Marybeth, a disabled girl they took advantage of at a house party. Pierce, nephew of Tony and Emmy winner David Hyde Pierce (“Frasier,” “Curtains”), is at his thought-provoking best exploring Becky’s mishandling of the situation and its impending consequences, material which could be fodder for another play entirely. On the contrary, Sterling’s uncertainties about his family and career are less impactful. Even so, there is enough give and take in the Sterling-Becky dynamic to steadily propel this intermission-less outing as ruminations on spirituality, sex, death, denial, forgiveness, miscommunication, and facing fears take shape.
Wallace, last seen at the Guild in the comedy “Leaving Iowa,” brings understatedly engaging appeal to the low-key Sterling who comes to realize his great escape to Costa Rica damaged his family more than he imagined. Most of the action places Sterling in the position of an understanding observer, but when certain conversations swell, particularly when Becky’s behavior takes its toll, Wallace hits hard with ample rage. Gomes, one of Dayton’s finest young chameleon actresses seen earlier this season at the Guild in “The Columnist, “once again delivers a marvelously grounded, character-specific portrayal. Her seemingly effortless work aptly conveys Becky’s outspoken, selfish tendencies, extreme insecurities, and worrisome millennial angst. In fact, Gomes’ brilliantly enigmatic approach to Becky’s life-altering predicament concerning Marybeth packs a considerable punch.
In related news, the Guild’s 2016-17 season will consist of “The Last Lifeboat” (Aug. 19-Sept. 4, 2016, directed by Jeff Sams), “The Outgoing Tide” (Oct. 7-23, 2016, directed by Kathy Mola), “The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin” (Nov. 18-Dec. 4, 2016, directed by Margie Strader), “Luna Gale” (Jan. 20-Feb. 5, 2017, directed by Debra Kent), “The Elephant Man” (March 17-April 2, 2017, directed by David Shough) and “Wonder of the World” (May 12-28, 2017, directed by Saul Caplan).
“Slowgirl” continues through March 13 at the Dayton Theatre Guild, 430 Wayne Ave., Dayton. Performances are Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 5 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m. The play is performed in 1 hour and 40 minutes without intermission. Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for seniors, and $13 for students. For tickets or more information, call (937) 278-5993 or visit www.daytontheatreguild.org. Patrons are reminded the play contains adult language and themes.