Hyde Park Theatre transports us to Costa Rica's jungle for an awkward but affecting meeting of uncle and niece

Better run through the jungle: Molly Karrasch and Ken Webster in <i>Slowgirl</i>
Better run through the jungle: Molly Karrasch and Ken Webster in Slowgirl (Photo courtesy of Eric Graham)


Hyde Park Theatre, 511 W. 43rd, 479-7529
Through April 27
Running time: 1 hr., 30 min.

A sound designer once told me that she'd done her job when reviewers failed to mention her work. The visual components of production design, she said, are more obvious targets for praise or criticism. But a small number of shows are defined by great live sound design, like last fall's spacestation1985, which was tethered to Buzz Moran's sci-fi beeps and hums.

The Hyde Park Theatre production of Greg Pierce's Slowgirl is another such show. "Audio scientist" and Rude Mechs company member Robert Fisher manipulates sound effortlessly to transform the funny, beloved little space into a dense Costa Rican jungle. From well-chosen Latin tunes to the scratch of iguana claws on a moist tin roof and the perpetual groaning and clicking of a wilderness of monkeys and parrots and anteaters, Fisher's sound surrounds and supports the painfully funny if somewhat predictable story of an uncle and niece who have run to the equator to escape their respective stateside traumas. Slowgirl's visual designers match Fisher's aural naturalism. Scenic design queen Ia Ensterä breaks out another fabulous set with help from Dawn Youngs on props, seamlessly integrating the isolated cabin of Uncle Sterling (Ken Webster) and the vivid green tropics that surround it. Don Day follows suit with realistic interior and dim forest floor lighting. And costume designer Glenda Barnes hits teenaged Becky (Molly Karrasch) dead-on with chipped mermaid-tail nail polish, a wrist full of friendship bracelets, and a pair of those impractical preripped short-shorts (probably from American Eagle).

Anyone who's had contact with a gregarious 17-year-old girl will instantly recognize Becky, and will admire and despise Pierce for his painstaking transcription of her vocally fried speech ("Stuff just, like, comes into my head, and I say it"). As the play begins, Becky arrives on a hastily planned visit to see Sterling, who five years earlier moved to Costa Rica to hide from divorce and financial dishonesty. Slowly, she unfolds her reason for being there: school suspension for proximity to an accident involving Jello shots and Marybeth, a special needs student (cruelly nicknamed "Slowgirl"). Karrasch really gets Becky and turns out an appropriately obnoxious performance. But she also finds moments of silence – this is when the jungle noises really sing – especially at the soul-baring ending, a climax that I sorta kinda saw coming (but I didn't really mind it, because Karrasch summoned a tear out of the corner of my eye). She and Webster pinpoint the awkward uncle-niece counterpoint that Pierce writes into filterless Becky and her stoic uncle. Like Fisher's sound, Webster, who also directs, hums subtly but essentially in the background, a testament to this balanced and well-rounded second-ever production of Slowgirl.

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Slowgirl, Austin theatre, Hyde Park Theatre, Ken Webster, Molly Karrasch, Robert Fisher, Ia Ensterä, Glenda Barnes, Don Day, Greg Pierce

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