What would inspire two Americans to retreat to a sparsely furnished lean-to in a remote jungle in Costa Rica, a corner of the globe uncharted by GoogleEarth and bereft of reliable cell phone service? Greg Pierce's sharp new Off Broadway drama Slowgirl explores just that question in a seemingly familiar two-person drama that manages to follow and upend conventions at just about every turn.
Pierce's two Americans are related, but not in the conventional way: Sterling (Željko Ivanek) is a middle-aged lawyer who retreated to Costa Rica years ago, after the dissolution of his marriage and a professional failure he's reluctant to dredge up again. He receives a surprise visit from his 17-year-old niece, Becky (Sarah Steele), who's been suspended from school for her possible culpability in a tragic accident involving a classmate, the developmentally challenged ''slowgirl'' of the title.
This is one of those two-handers that's built upon the gradual reveal. And Pierce parses his details cunningly. He has a real feel for how we can be both self-serving at one moment and overly confessional the next. We strive for connection, to be understood as we are even if that as-we-areness opens us up to criticism. Or ridicule. Or worse.
Steele, best known as Eli Gold's daughter on The Good Wife, convincingly displays all the awkwardness, aggressiveness, and insecurity of adolescence. She's annoying and sweet, off-putting and sympathetic in just about equal measure. And Ivanek, a two-time Tony nominee and Emmy winner for Damages, is her perfect foil, an isolated man who is shaken from the routine quiet but struggles to embrace the possibility of opening up after so many years of self-imposed exile. Finely directed by Anne Kaufman, the actors circle each other with a wariness and familiarity that remains compelling despite the somewhat conventional nature of the story itself.
Slowgirl is the debut production in the Clair Tow Theater, a gorgeous new 112-seat black-box space built on the roof of the Lincoln Center Theater (it includes an open-air deck affording amazing views of the center complex). Pierce's play bodes well for the future of the LCT3 program and Off Broadway theater generally. A–
Tickets: Telecharge.com or 800-432-7250)