Character Clash in Costa Rica
Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s “Slowgirl” brings an edgy new play to Milwaukee.
Sterling is a former lawyer who has left civilization for the jungles of Costa Rica, where he’s lived an isolated life for seven years. Instead of listening to closing arguments in a courtroom, he now spends his time listening to the iguanas sharpening their toes on his tin roof.
Enter Becky, a sassy young 17-year old, the niece Sterling hasn’t seen in many years joining him in this place where snakes and other creatures lurk in the swamps, shadows and under palm fronds. Becky has fled here to escape a horrific accident that happened back home.
Such is the back story to the play Slowgirl, opening next Wednesday, February 24, in a production by the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre.
“Becky is incredibly outspoken and has her own views on life,” says Peter Reeves, who plays Uncle Sterling. “As far as she’s concerned, they’re the only ‘correct’ views. The key to this story is they need each other desperately for different reasons.”
Becky is played by Sara Zientek. “She shows up and finds her uncle in a hammock,” Reeves says. “He’s living the life of someone who wanted to get away from it all.”
Becky is a bit mouthy and has a lot of questions, which is alarming to a man who has by design lived virtually alone in the middle of nowhere for seven years. “These are two people running from something and have to learn to talk to each other,” Reeves says. “They’re from two disparate generations with different ideals.”
It’s a play that peels back layers of hidden feelings in the two characters, as one review noted.
Slowgirl was written by young, up-and-coming playwright Greg Pierce, first staged in 2012, and has been produced by Chicago’s famed Steppenwolf Theatre among others. Pierce has also collaborated with composer John Kander, best known for Cabaret, on a musical called The Landing.
“Becky is from a world that has changed a great deal since he last saw her and I think Sterling’s a bit scared of the world he left. The sheer volume of stuff she lays at his feet is staggering,” Reeves says. “That presents conflict in the story. I think he likes her but he also feels a lot of guilt he hasn’t been around for so long.”
The drama, which also has its comic moments, is directed by Milwaukee Chamber Theatre Artistic Director C. Michael Wright. Wright has worked before with Reeves, who has a long history of performing in Milwaukee. Reeves appeared at MCT in productions like The Sweetest Swing in Baseball, and A Walk in the Woods.
Reeves is communications director for Pius XI Catholic High School in Milwaukee. He’s appeared in numerous films and commercials.
His day job has been a bonus for the show.
“Being a teacher, I’m around girls this age all the time. I get to hear the way they talk and see the way they act. I’m sure I must be square to them. But I do think this experience helps me in this role. I’m sure Becky sees Sterling as a square.”
Reeves believes Wright saw how his experience as a teacher could help ground the character of Sterling. “He helped bring out the teaching experience,” Reeves says.
“My students are very smart and they talk very raw. Our language has eroded. So much slang is going on, so many truncated words.”
Reeves, 54, is a 1980 graduate of Nicolet High School. His acting debut came during his senior year.
“I couldn’t compete in sports because of an injury,” Reeves says. He auditioned for The Glass Menagerie and got the part of Tom. “The first time on stage I thought I was going to have a heart attack.”
Then, as if on cue:
“Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician.”
Reeves recited these Tennessee Williams lines from a play staged at Nicolet High School 38 years ago. Once you’ve got it down, you’ve got it.