"Slipping" shows promise, but at present it seems more TV movie than play.
An author’s note in the program states that “Slipping,” Daniel Talbott’s new play at the Rattlestick, “is hopefully a play about loss, hope and possibility and the things that crack us open and force us to reach out and become more of who we truly are.” That unwieldy statement indicates a playwright with ideas and sensibilities but an as-yet-undeveloped sense of craft, and Talbott’s hopes for the play, alas, are not fully realized.
Central character Eli (Seth Numrich), transplanted from San Francisco to Iowa, is 17 years old and has a Secret. (The play begins and ends in a hospital bed, and the boy occasionally wears a wrist band.) He also has two boyfriends — moody Chris (Adam Driver) of San Francisco, seen in numerous flashbacks, and likable Iowa shortstop Jake (Macleod Andrews) — and a mother who grades English papers and sleeps with numerous men.
The action, such as it is, shows Eli’s adjustment to his new home and a “hopefully” more normal relationship with Jake (whom he meets as they are both throwing pots in ceramics class). Talbott has given us a highly likable hero in Eli, although the dark patches in his character seem to jump out of nowhere. One gets the impression of an autobiographical portrait written by an author who doesn’t quite understand his dark side.
More problematic is the fragmentary dramaturgy. “Slipping” is written in some 30 separate scenes, some as brief as two words. This works well on film but is highly distracting onstage; in some cases, it takes longer to swivel the furniture and change costumes than to play the actual scene. Director Kirsten Kelly manages to keep the action moving through all those quick changes of locale, but she doesn’t seem to have helped Talbott focus his play.
Numrich makes a very good impression as Eli, and he is matched by Andrews in the smaller role of the all-American boy, no matter that neither looks anywhere near 17. Driver, however, appears to be almost twice the proscribed age (he’s an ex-Marine, according to his bio), which adds a distracting element to his scenes with Numrich. (Chris is also described as “beautiful,” which only goes to illustrate that old cliche that beauty is in the eye of the casting director.) Meg Gibson, as a mother who has not quite grown up, offers strong support.
“Slipping,” which was workshopped at the Royal Court Theater and the Rattlestick (where Talbott is a literary manager), is presented by Piece by Piece Prods. and Rising Phoenix Rep (where Talbott is artistic director). An actor and director as well, Talbott wears many hats; “Slipping” shows promise, but at present it seems more TV movie than play.
The action features a little bit of nudity (real) and a little bit of blood (fake).