Regional Reviews: Los Angeles
Also see Sharon's review of Snapshot
It certainly could be about Chris. As we are told in the opening scene (from which everything else is a flashback), Chris ends up hanging himself. And while Slipping never shows us Chris's descent into suicidal depression, we certainly see the seeds planted that will bring him to that point. Chris is a pretty-boy popular kid in high school. He's the one you think of when you hear, "captain of the football team." Things come easy for himperhaps too easyand he can make people do what he wants through either intimidation or his knowledge of others' desire to be around him. But Chris is also so far in the closet that he won't admit that he's gay, preferring instead to bully another teen into having sex with him. (Chris's idea of seduction begins with barking at Eli, "Take your shirt off.") Chris's part to play in Slipping is to emotionally abuse Eli, leaving the young man thinking that the only way to relate to a boyfriend is to be "an asshole" to him. But Chris's own story sets up the decline we know will comea kid who allows others' perceptions to trap him in a bubble of self-hatred, which he directs at Eli until it ultimately, inevitably, explodes back on himself.
Or Slipping could be about Jake, the kid who befriends Eli when the latter transfers to his school. A virgin at seventeen, Jake is eager to sleep with one of the girls at school. But when his first time isn't all he anticipated, he realizes he's actually more attracted to his best friend. To the extent Slipping is a coming-out story, it's the story of Jake, not Eli. Everyone knows Eli is gay; it is Jake who goes on the journey of self-discovery. And it is a fun journeynot full of angst and confusion, but excitement and joy.
Seen from an admittedly more unlikely angle, Slipping is about Eli's mother Jan. After her husband died in a car accident, Jan moved to Iowa with her teenaged son, to make a new start. She has a lot on her plate besides the new job. She has to try to connect to a kid she's never been close to. She doesn't care that he's gay (she asks him if there are any cute boys at school); she cares that he's distant. Jan is walking the fine line between making sure her punk-dressing, chain-smoking son is alright and letting him be the individual he's trying to become. And there is also a certain amount of family baggage that followed the pair to Iowa; no real fresh start can be had by simply burying the past.
But, undeniably, Slipping is Eli's play. Haunted by his abusive relationship with Chris, and not having the happiest of parents to model a good relationship, Eli doesn't quite know what to do when Jake presents the possibility of a happy, healthy one. The juxtaposed scenes make for a stark comparison, and explain Eli's behavior better than a psychoanalyst could. With Jake, Eli is teasing and tauntingenjoying having the power in the relationship and playfully making Jake feel off-balance. But with Chris, Eli is instantly vulnerable, the victim of someone else who has the power and consistently abuses it. Eli is at the center of Slipping, as he struggles with his past and accepting the idea that he deserves something much better.
The performances are excellent all around, with particularly fine work by Seth Numrich as Eli, who seamlessly transitions between the needy kid who never had the strength to leave Chris, and the tough guy who never wants to let Jake get too close. Points also to Maxwell Hamilton, who, as Chris, perfectly conveys his character before ever uttering a line.
The intermissionless play runs a bit on the long side, closer to two hours than ninety minutes, and it could probably be pared without doing much harm. Talbott has written some monologues for Eli, where we get to know just a little more about what is going on in the kid's head. They're interesting bitsparticularly one where he is narrating a show of old photographsbut they are, perhaps, unnecessary. Talbott and Numrich together give us everything we need to know about Eli in his interactions with other characters; spelling out his thoughts seems like gravy.
Slipping runs through May 5 at Elephant Stages' Lillian Theatre. For performance and ticket information, visit http://www.rattlestick.org/rattlestick-la/ or call 212-627-2556.
Rattlestick Playwrights Theater Presents Slipping. Written and Directed by Daniel Talbott. Set John McDermott; Costumes Rachel Myers; Lights Leigh Allen; Sound Janie Bullard; Projections Kaitlyn Pietras; Props Timm Carney; Fights Joe Sofranko; Production Stage Manager Laura Perez; Assistant Stage Manager Lorely Trinidad; Technical Director Robert Corn; Casting Mark Bennett, C.S.A.; Publicity & Marketing Green Galactic; Consultant Jeanie Hackett; Producers Addie Johnson-Talbott & Gaalan Michaelson.