Author Kia Corthron’s intention to make a serious statement about the cloning issue is announced at the beginning of “Slide Glide the Slippery Slope,” with a strong opening image of famous cloned sheep Dolly, hanging from the ceiling. Corthron has a flair for language and the ability to create tense, unnerving scenes, but her play, receiving its West Coast premiere at the Taper, Too, slides and glides off course in a series of tumultuous dramatic detours. Each confrontation is a self-contained playlet and revolutionary, original ideas are given short shrift and replaced by traditional family conflict.
Pivotal character Erm (Bahni Turpin) is a farmer with a consuming interest in biogenetics and cloning. Her 36-year-old identical twin Elo (June A. Lomena), whom she hasn’t seen since early childhood, arrives unannounced and demands resumption of their relationship.
Erm resists angrily, unwilling to be reminded of the alcoholic mother who kept Elo and gave up Erm to another woman’s care. Before long, Erm’s adopted sister Retta (Veralyn Jones) inserts herself into the mix, and it becomes clear that all three women are bound by traumas: Elo grieves for her 10-year-old daughter Rosie, killed in a car accident; Erm had a son with Down syndrome; and Retta’s young boy is the key to a surprising climactic secret.
It takes too long for Erm and Elo to reminisce and establish communication, and the central controversy — whether Elo should clone her lost Rosie, and Erm should duplicate son Sear (Daniel Bryant) with the hope of genetically eliminating his Down handicaps — feels peripheral to the action.
Thematic unity is temporarily maintained in a clash between Elo and Rosie, followed by Erm’s encounter with son Sear. But the intriguing dramatic possibilities presented in these scenes are then discarded when we learn that these moments were fantasies, and suddenly moving center stage is a long sequence involving Elo, Erm and their mother Dell (Juanita Jennings).
This scene about unloved girls confronting a neglectful parent is involving, due to a superb portrayal by Jennings, but its excessive length unbalances the play. Corthron’s sentimental, preachy resolution turns her story into a tidy tract about sisterly bonding that hands us that old pop bromide: Whatever the problems, love is the answer.
Though diffuse at its core, “Slide Glide” is tightly framed around the edges, with outstanding sound by John Zalewski, who contributes a jarring earthquake, sputtering car sounds in heavy rain and the plaintive bleating of sheep. Rand Ryan’s lighting effectively spotlights the ever-present Dolly and forcefully embellishes the stormy shifting of moods.
Director Valerie Curtis-Newton falters in setting up cohesive scene transitions but draws potent portrayals from her cast. Turpin remains believable and sympathetic even when struggling to avoid emotional connections. Lomena’s Elo, while failing to enunciate at crucial moments, successfully conveys fear, hysteria and lost dreams.
Khanya Mkhize’s nightmarish Rosie gets under the skin, and Bryant delivers a bold and startling emulation of a mentally challenged adolescent.