William Petersen and Rae Gray star in 'Slowgirl.' (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

William Petersen and Rae Gray star in ‘Slowgirl.’ (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

You may know him as the insect expert Gil Grissom on “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” but William Petersen has a long, strong pedigree as an accomplished stage actor.

He’s appearing in a two-person play, “Slowgirl” at The Geffen alongside Rae Gray, a fellow member of the lauded theatre company Steppenwolf, which co-presents its original Chicago cast here.

Becky (Rae Gray) is a snarky 17-year-old in big trouble, seeking solace far away from it by visiting her uncle Sterling (Petersen). He lives in the jungles of Costa Rica because he’s run away from his own troubles at home. He’s been there almost completely on his own for more than a decade.

Becky explains that as a joke, she and her friends had invited a mentally challenged classmate, the “slow girl,” to a raucous party. But the girl unknowingly downs alcohol-laden Jell-O shots and in a state of euphoria, attempts to jump into a backyard pool from an upstairs window, falling instead on the concrete. She’s in the hospital with life-threatening injuries. Becky denies her direct involvement with the tragedy.

Answering Becky’s question about why her father hates him so much, Sterling explains that his business partner ripped off a lot of people, that he was unaware while it was happening, and that his marriage broke off because he refused to argue with his wife. Losing it all and abandoned by his family, Sterling ran away to the jungle to avoid confrontation of any kind.

The relationship between Becky and Sterling unfolds awkwardly at first, as they have not seen each other since Becky was a child. And spoiled Becky’s not exactly accustomed to living roughly, deep in nature; she disturbs Sterling’s tenuous tranquility. But slowly they open each other up, connect, and face their fears. The play is a well-paced 90 minutes with no intermission.

I enjoyed this quiet, impactful play, written by Greg Pierce. The set is simple but evocative and flexible, the characters are well written, perhaps Rae more than Sterling, who frequently doesn’t finish a thought or a sentence. But the relationship feels quite real between these two well-seasoned actors, who are returning to the roles they originated.

I recommend “Slowgirl,” running through April 27 at the Audrey Skirball-Kenis Theatre, the black box theatre adjacent to the Geffen’s main stage. Visit geffenplayhouse.com or call (310) 208-5454.

 

Czech mate

 

Santa Monica Rep is producing a complex and subversive play by Vaclav Havel, the dissident playwright and political prisoner who, in a staggering reversal of fate, became president of the Czech Republic.

His absurdist satire “The Memorandum” depicts a time during the Communist era when Havel’s essays poked fun at the country’s authoritarian puppet government. A bureaucratic edict is sent to an unnamed organization, written in a new language that no one understands and was created to reduce confusion between similar-sounding words, which of course, has the opposite effect.

Discovering why that language was created and getting the memo translated leads to much confusion, job loss, spying, paranoia, job recovery and even more bureaucracy in a vortex of pointlessness, a stinging indictment of life under a stifling regime.

Let’s see what our locals do with it as “The Memorandum” plays at The Miles Memorial Playhouse, with an off-site special opening night party on Friday, March 21. It runs Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through April 20. For tickets, visit santamonicarep.org.

 

An Irish odyssey

 

The masterful Irish writer/actor Pat Kinevane returns to the Odyssey Theater in West L.A. with his award-winning one-man plays “Silent” and “Forgotten.”

Kinevane is a riveting performer in town for a limited three-week run of these two original and heart-rending productions, which he’s been performing to sold-out audiences at Ireland’s famed Abbey Theatre, en route to a world tour.

“Silent” is the touching story of homeless man McGoldrig, who once had splendid things. But he has lost it all — including his mind. He now dives into the wonderful wounds of his past through the romantic world of Rudolph Valentino.

“Forgotten” reveals the interconnecting stories of four elderly people living in retirement homes and care facilities around Ireland. Insightful and dark with startling moments of hilarity, “Forgotten” is a unique collage of Kabuki dance and Irish storytelling.

Don’t miss out on a memorable set of performances select Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays now through April 6. (310) 477-2055; details at odysseytheatre.com.

 

Literary feast 

 

Get your taste buds ready. The ever-popular public radio series “Selected Shorts,” produced by New York’s Symphony Space, returns for a weekend of live performances by celebrity readers, offering stories revolving around the theme of food — enjoyed, prepared, devoured, or ignored. Each event includes a small-bite culinary selection paired with a special drink. Authors include Haruki Murakami, Ann Beattie, Gustave Flaubert, Henry Miller, Roald Dahl, Raymond Carver and many others.

The literary feast touches on romances and coming of age stories, mysteries, adventures, marital woes, and the complications of family life. Robert Sean Leonard emcees the show with a cast including Jane Kaczmarek, Michael Imperioli, Christopher Lloyd, Joshua Malina, Christina Pickles, Catherine O’Hara and Amber Tamblyn reading delectable tales set in kitchens, at dinner parties, behind the scenes at a bakery, at family dinner tables, and even a Mad Hatter’s tea party.

Visit the public events page at getty.edu for information and tickets.

 

Jazz it up

 

Grammy Award-winning keyboardist and composer Russell Ferrante, known around the globe for his daringly original compositions and lyrical soloing style, is the featured guest at the 2014 opening concert of the Santa Monica College Jazz Ensemble.

Ferrante, a founder of the band Yellowjackets, appears as soloist with the large ensemble and in a trio setting with SMC’s rhythm section players, conducted by Frederick Keith Fiddmont. Music by masters such as Bob Mintzer and Billy Strayhorn are highlighted.

Tickets are only $10; Sunday, March 30 at The Broad Stage; more info at (310) 434-3005 or (310) 434-4323, or go to smc.edu/eventsinfo.

 

 

Sarah A. Spitz is a former freelance arts producer for NPR and former staff producer at public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica. She has also reviewed theatre for LAOpeningNights.com.

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