PLAYBILL BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Greg Pierce, Playwright of Slowgirl

By Robert Simonson
12 Jul 2012

Željko Ivanek
Photo by Erin Baiano

A lot of young American playwrights tend to stick pretty close to what they know. Hence, you see a lot of plays about young, middle-class professionals living in U.S. urban centers. A play set in Costa Rica that gets a major production in New York is pretty rare. Do you think young playwrights today don't go outside their comfort zone enough?
GP: I think playwrights should write plays about whatever they want to write about. "Write what you know" is always the advice young writers are given. I've been thinking lately about how terrible that advice is. Because I wouldn't want to see plays that are all about what I'm experiencing now in New York. That's boring to me. What makes plays exciting is a playwright who is interested in the things they're writing about because they don't know them already.

If Tom Stopped followed "write what you know," he never would have written any of his plays.
GP: Exactly. And in Tom Stoppard's plays, he's incredibly knowledgable, but there's always this feeling he's hungry to know more.

How did your play happen to become the inaugural production at the new Claire Tow Theater at Lincoln Center?
GP: That came about because LCT3 asked [director] Anne Kauffman if she wanted to direct something in the new space and did she know of any plays. My agent had just sent her Slowgirl and she really liked it. [LCT3 artistic director] Paige Evans read it and liked it. We did a reading and they took it.

So this is your first experience working with Anne Kauffman.
GP: Yes. We didn't know each other. And we've loved working together. We're going to work together on another play. I'm developing a four-character play and I'm close to having a first draft.

Sarah Steele as Becky
photo by Erin Baiano

In the character of Becky, you did a great job of capturing the way that — unfortunately — teenagers talk and act these days. Do you have teenage sisters or girl cousins?
GP: I haven't. I have an older sister and younger brother. But I tutored for a while after I came to New York, for about five years. I was tutoring a lot of teenage girls and boys. But as I was working on this play and walking around New York, the great thing about teenage girls is they talk really loudly. You can walk behind them and listen.

And they don't hold back on anything.
GP: They really don't. They want everybody on the street to know exactly what they're going through. When we were talking to Sarah Steele about the character, we realized that teen girls are all about superlatives. "I'm the sexiest. I'm the funniest." That was a good cue for Sarah. I think she kind of nailed that.

Were you familiar with Željko Ivanek before this production?
GP: I had seen him on stage in The Cherry Orchard. He was in the play with my uncle, David Hyde Pierce. I've since seen him in Blue/Orange and Pillowman. I've always been a big fan.

So you have theatre roots in your family.
GP: Yeah. My grandfather was an actor, George Hyde Pierce. My brother, Randall Pierce, is a music director. And all my other family members are theatre junkies. There's a lot of theatre there.

Did you ever want to be an actor?
GP: I did. I came here as an actor. I was at Oberlin College and was performing there. I moved here and started up a sketch-comedy group. We did that for a few years. We wrote and performed. And then writing kind of took over.